Mar 4, 2009

Leïla en Pologne

[basically my summary of the opera, after Leïla, the female role of Les Pêcheurs de Perles]  

Le Roi Malgré Lui

Opéra comique en 3 actes d'Emmanuel Chabrier (1887)
Livret d'Emile de Najac et Paul Burani
Revival of the 2005 production of Laurent Pelly and Agathe Mélinand

Henri de Valois, roi de Pologne - Jean-Sébastien Bou
Minka - Magali Léger
Le Duc de Fritelli - Franck Leguérinel
Alexina, Duchesse de Fritelli - Sophie Marin-Degor
Le Comte de Nangis - Gordon Gietz
Laski, grand palatin - Nabil Suliman

Conduction - Claire Levacher
Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra de Lyon
March 3 2009 

© Gérard Ansellem

The piece

You know you're not headed for a masterpiece when you realize how the music of Le Roi Malgré Lui, which premiered in 1887, sounds awfully like operas composed 50 years before it. Still, as I like French operas from that time, I found some qualities to the score, although one could only think about Auber, Thomas or even Gounod quite a few times.

This comic opera sure doesn't carry with it a special aura of originality, but the score is overall well-balanced and easy to follow. Of course there's no emotional dimension ever, but that's not the purpose anyway. The libretto is not very smart either, and the storyline is also typical of the XIXth century: a silly situation, royalty, a conspiracy, a loving slave and a happy ending. Basically your average love-story movie right from Hollywood, 21st century.

This is the tale of a French duke that is appointed king of Poland and hates his new country. He wants to leave, as do most of the Polish court and his Italian chambellan Fritteli. Add to that the necessary orientalism for the time in the face of the slave Minka, a love triangle between the King, Fritteli and his wife, a chorus whose sole goal was to please La Censure, "Par l'Evangile et Notre-Dame" (Acte 2 scène 9) and other forgettable and complicated ideas.

Henri de Valois, ©Opéra de Lyon

The music

One (and by one, I mean me) realizes even more how extatic Riccardo Muti's concert was when one goes back to the Opéra de Lyon for a comic opera. Apparently, the frivolous libretto allows for frivolous behavior from the audience as well. I was dying for some quiet, especially during the introductions of each act, but the religious atmosphere of the TCE couldn't have been further than my fellow Lyonnais' proclivities.

The reason for my deep interest in the orchestra was Claire Levacher, the unknown assistant conductor who had to step in when scheduled Carlo Franci cancelled for the whole run. She's evidently not Leonard Bernstein, but she showed some real talent last night. The opening chorus of Act 2 was a beauty, as were many other parts of the score. Overall, she can improve on the emotional side (though obviously, conducting a comic opera doesn't help), and focus more on the strings. I honestly didn't expect at all such a good work.

Hopefully she'll be given the opportunity to conduct again in this house. This sure would be an excellent idea.

The overall quality of the cast was excellent, both singing and acting. On the negative side, Sophie Marin-Degor as Fritteli's wife made a very poor impression on me, both with her acting and her singing. Other that that, this was really fun and vocally harmonious to follow.
Franck Leguérinel was the star of the evening for me. His timbre is beautiful and his singing is very vibrant and honest; his acting skills are pretty good also.

Minka, ©Opéra de Lyon

The staging

This is probably the best production I've seen from Laurent Pelly.

First of all, it's very funny, and doesn't really fall to the ridiculous side Pelly often slides into. It may sometimes be a bit over the top, especially the way he handles the singers' moves (nobody is ever walking, they're all rushing as if the House was on fire or something).

But, contrary to my recurrent critics about Pelly's sets, these ones are actually beautiful, as are the costumes. This gives a unity to this production that really allows to focus more on the story and the numerous hilarious tricks Pelly added to the action (most of them being a smart illustration of the lack of interest of the libretto). A very interesting revival indeed.

The Frittelis, ©Opéra de Lyon


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