• Beyond the Standard Repertoire - Le Roi Malgré Lui - Chabrier



    In anticipation of the Bard Summerscape production of Emmanuel Chabrier's outstanding comic opera Le Roi Malgré Lui directed by Opera Lively interviewee Thaddeus Strassberger and with the title role sung by OL interviewee Liam Bonner, we'll be examining in detail this work that is still mostly neglected by opera houses and recording labels, in spite of being considered by scholars as Chabrier's masterpiece, and being wildly admired by other composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky.

    Almaviva will be attending the opening night at the Bard on July 27, 2012, and will add to this article a review of the performance. It is interesting to notice that the Bard will present the original 1887 version by Chabrier - its first revival! - rather than the standard version that has been staged here and there and recorded commercially once, which is the 1929 Albert Carré revision. This fully staged production will also be given at the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland, the co-producers.

    Before we start, some useful links and info:

    The Bard Summerscape website for information and tickets: [here]
    Our interview with director Thaddeus Strassberger: [here]
    Our interview with baritone Liam Bonner: [here] - he only superficially addresses this production, and we're trying to re-interview him for this role.

    We are seeking arrangements to interview other cast members and conductor Leon Botstein; if successful, links will be added to this space, so, come back to check if it's been done.

    Performances at the Bard Summerscape Festival will happen in the strikingly beautiful and modern Fischer Center for the Performing Arts located at the Bard College campus upstate New York, in Annandale-on-Hudson. Dates are July 27 and 29, and August 1, 3, and 5. Tickets are still available and cost between $30 and $90.








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    A) CREDITS

    Le Roi Malgré Lui (The King in Spite of Himself), opéra-comique in three acts, premiered on 18 May 1887 at the Opéra-Comique (salle Favart) in Paris, France. Revived in a new version modified by Albert Carré, again at Opéra-Comique in 1929.

    Music by Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier (b. Amber, France, 18 January 1841, d. Paris, France, 13 September 1894)

    Libretto in French by Emile de Najac and Paul Burani, revised by Jean Richepin and the composer himself, after the vaudeville of the same name written in 1836 by de Jacques-Arsène Ancelot (1794-1854).

    Roles created at the première by Adèle Isaac, Cécile Mézéray, Max Bouvet, Delaguerrière, Lucien Fugère, conducted by Danbé.

    Characters and voices:

    Henri de Valois, King of Poland - baritone
    Comte de Nangis, his close friend - tenor
    Duc de Fritelli, an Italian, chamberlain to the King - buffo baritone
    Alexina, his Polish wife, Duchess of Fritelli - soprano
    Count Laski, a Polish patriot - bass
    Minka, one of Count Laski's slave - soprano
    Basile, an innkeeper - tenor
    French noblemen:
    Villequier - bass
    Liancourt - tenor
    Elbeuf - tenor
    Maugiron - baritone
    Quélus - baritone
    A Soldier - bass
    Six serfs, pages, other French noblemen, Polish noblemen, soldiers, Polish ladies, people

    Place and time - Poland, circa 1573
    Running time - Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes

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    Bard Summerscape production

    Sung in French, with English supertitles
    American Symphony Orchestra
    Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
    Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger
    Set Design by Kevin Knight
    Costumes by Mattie Ullrich
    Lighting by Simon Corder
    Produced by Bard College and the Wexford Festival Opera

    Cast (pictures provided by Bard College):

    Liam Bonner, baritone, Henri de Valois


    Michele Angelini, tenor, Nangis


    Andriana Chuchman, soprano, Minka


    Nathalie Paulin, soprano, Alexina


    Frédéric Goncalves, baritone, Fritelli


    Jeffrey Matsei, baritone, Laski


    Jason Ferrante, tenor, Basile


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    B) THE COMPOSER


    Chabrier playing the piano in a painting by Fantin-Latour (public domain) depicting the French Wagnerians

    Emmanuel Chabrier, a French Romantic composer and pianist, was a very active intellectual in the Parisian inteligentsia of his time. He counted among his close friends the poets Paul Verlaine and Catulle Mendès (both of whom provided him with libretti), the painters Renoir, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Édouard Manet (Chabrier owned Manet's famous painting Un Bar aux Folies-Bergères), various other painters, and some of the most celebrated French composers of the time, including Fauré, Chausson, Duparc, and D'Indy, who came to be known as the core of the French Wagnerian movement.


    Manet's painting Un Bar aux Folies-Bergères, owned by Chabrier

    His notoriety, however, was slow in the making, thanks to the opposition of his parents, who thought music an unsuitable career for their son. They forced him into studying Law in the hope that he'd become an attorney like his father. However, since age 6 and throughout Law School, Chabrier never ceased to have private music lessons. He kept trying his hands at composition of small pieces for the piano. Upon graduation in Law School in 1861 he took a job as a public servant at the French Ministry of the Interior, but continued to consacrate his free time to music. He was a very talented pianist who was said to play with rare virtuosity, and his compositions for piano - notably the cycle Pièces Pitoresques - are quality work.

    Only in his thirties he started to compose seriously for the stage, and in 1877 he released L'Étoile which had a modest success at the time, but is arguably his most popular opera today (it is delightful!). Next, his short operetta L'Éducation Manquée was less well received.

    The triggering event for embracing a full time career as a composer only came three years later, when in a trip to Germany in 1880 he attended a performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Chabrier was so impressed that he felt that he had found his calling, and one year later he quit his position as a Civil Servant.

    In 1883 Chabrier started working on a serious Wagnerian-inspired opera, Gwendoline. It was first performed in 1886, and was not well received by the French public, since the prevailing sentiment at the time was anti-German (thanks lingering resentment due to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71) and anti-Wagner. The Opéra Garnier refused to give Gwendoline, and it had to be first given at La Monnaie in Brussels.

    Chabrier then opted for the safer financial bet of lighter material which had already served him well with L'Étoile, and attacked the task of composing an opéra-comique, which he completed in 9 months: Le Roi Malgré Lui. Like we'll discuss soon, the success this time was considerable.

    As a composer of orchestral works Chabrier also made his mark, with two pieces being very well considered: España, and Joyeuse Marche. Let's listen to these famous pieces:





    Meanwhile the enthusiasm of his fans such as the star tenor Ernest van Dyck and conductor Felix Mottl got his Gwendoline to be performed all over Germany, especially in Munich and Leipzig.

    However, the composer fell ill with syphylis which attacked his central nervous system, causing a rapid health and mental decline. He was also depressed due to what he perceived as neglect of his stage works. By the time his Gwendoline was finally given in Paris in 1893, he was confused and did not understand that he public was applauding him. He died one year later in 1894, and was buried at the Montparnasse cemetery. He left his Wagnerian-inspired piece Briséïs incomplete, with only the first act and some sketches for the second and third.

    Chabrier is remembered for his great command of orchestration and interesting harmonies. He did not shy away from using dissonance, and his compositions are varied and lively. He had his own style and was an innovator. Curiously and in spite of his devotion to the music of Wagner, his most enduring works are the ones that did not derive from Wagnerian influence, such as España, L'Étoile, and Le Roi Malgré Lui. Other seven operas or operetas were incomplete or lost.

    His music influenced several French composers, including Ravel, Stravinsky, and Poulenc. Richard Strauss was a great admirer of his works.

    C) LE ROI MALGRÉ LUI - CIRCUMSTANCES OF COMPOSITION, RECEPTION, TRIVIA

    Circumstances of composition: After his somber Gwendoline, Chabrier wanted something lighter. He looked at Ancelot's ancient vaudeville given at the Palais-Royal in 1836, and asked Émile de Najac (1828-1889) and Paul Burani (1845-1901), two well-known playrights at the time, to make a libretto out of it. Chabrier did not like the result and asked his friend poet Jean Richepin (1849-1926) to revise the text, which he did only partially, growing tired of it. Chabrier himself then took upon the task of improving the libretto, calling it later a "bouillabaisse" (a Mediterranean seafood soup with lots of ingredients) with ingredients by Najac and Burani, cooked by Richepin, with spices added by himself. He said the end result was "a field battle."

    Reception: it was Chabrier's best musical success in his career. During the premiere several numbers were encored, and the public applauded wildly the interpreters and the composer. His friend composer Vincent d'Indy complained that the plot was confusing with too many doors and people entering and exiting, people who come in when they ought to leave and people who leave when they ought to stay. However he considered the music "genial." He did object to Alexina's long first act aria stating that it stopped the action. Chabrier did elimiinate it in his second version.

    Trivia: The real story behind the plot is that when the King of Poland died in 1573, the nation adopted the elective monarchy system. Candidates were Ivan the Terrible from Russia and the archduke of Austria, Ernest, but Henri de Valois, duke of Anjou, was elected instead although he didn't want the throne. He was Charles IX's brother (the King of France). His mother Catherina of Medici forced him to take it. He went to Cracow on February 15, 1574. However three months later his brother died, and Henri went back to France to become its monarch under the title of Henri III. Two days before his coronation on February 13, 1575, he married Louise de Vaudémont, niece of Charles III of Lorain. Henri III was king until 1589 when he was murdered by a fanatic monk, Jacques Clément. He did not leave heirs given that he was homosexual and ignored his wife.

    During the opera's third presentation, Thomas' Mignon was also being given at the Opéra Comique when the set caught fire, which spread to the Salle Feydeau where Le Roi was being performed.

    When it resumed after the fire several months later at the Théâtre Lyrique, Place du Châtelet, Chabrier had made several cuts to his score. It was another success but only lasted for eleven presentations.

    Felix Mottl was a personal friend of Chabrier's and championed his opera, taking it to Germany (Karlsruhe, Dresden, Koln). It was a success that didn't last, since after Chabrier's death his works faded away from popularity in Germany.

    Chabrier confided to Lecocq that the score of Le Roi was much better orchestrated than Gwendoline (although this did not prevent Ravel proposing to Chabrier's sister-in-law, at the time of the 1929 revival, that he re-orchestrate the Fête Polonaise, which he did).

    Cosima Wagner attended a performance in Dresden in 1890 and hated it. She said: "What vulgarity and lack of ideas. No performance in the world could conceal for an instant these trivialities."

    D) THE COMPLETE LIBRETTO, AND SYNOPSIS

    Here is a link to the original French libretto:

    Le Roi Malgré Lui - Libretto

    Synopsis:

    Act I

    The background story is that the Polish people have elected a French noble, Henri de Valois, to become their king, while Polish nobles led by Count Albert Laski would rather have as king the Archduke of Austria, and they are engaged in a conspiracy to rid Poland of Henri.

    The opera opens in a castle near Krakow Henri awaits incognito his coronation, with a posse of French noblemen who are playing cards and chess, fencing, and whining about how tedious it is to be away from home. Henri's friend Nangis returns from the city where he spent eight days trying to raise an army in support of the king. He takes credit for the soldiers he has recruited. The king enters, reviews the soldiers drawn up for him with scant interest, and is informed that he needs a body guard because noble Polish are plotting against him. The post from France is brought ceremonially to the king. In a beautiful romance, he sings of his longing for the motherland.

    Enters the Duke of Fritelli, a Venetian living in Poland and married to a Polish woman, has managed to become Henri's chamberlain while secretely also pledding allegiance to Laski. Fritelli is busy with preparations for the coronation. He learns of the king's continued homesickness, and airs on the differences between the Poles and the French in a comic song (Le Polonais est triste et grave). The king praises Italian women, recalling a Venitian lady who was about to be raped by two kidnappers when Henri saved her, and they had a night of love in his gondola. Henri says he only knows her first name, but doesn't say it.

    The king wants Fritelli to introduce his wife to him. Fritelli is told to go fetch his wife, Alexina, niece to Count Laski the conspirator. Fritelli leaves, and Nangis confesses to his friends that he has fallen in love with a charming girl, Minka, who is a slave in Laski's household. She regularly passes on information on her master's plots against the king. The king tells Nangis that they should go together, in desguise, spy on Laski.

    The king leaves, and sounds of a scuffle are heard. A soldier is trying to grab Minka who is coming to see Nangis, who rescues her from the soldier. She tells Nangis that she has only come for a moment but when Nangis takes this that she does not love him anymore she gently rebukes him and asks him to be patient. She promises to return later that day, but as she is about to leave, Fritelli and his wife arrive. Minka hides and overheas their conversation.

    First Alexina talks about the plot her uncle Laski is preparing against the king. The conspirators will meet that night using a ball at Laski's palace as a pretext. She tells Fritelli to kidnap the king and deliver him to Laski's palace, and Laski's men will take over. Coward Fritelli hesitates and says that instead of pushing him to political action she should just love him, she bursts laughing and says that married couples should be driven by ambition, not by love. Alexina tells Fritelli about an adventure she had in Venice, giving it an innocent spin, but having heard the full story from the king, Fritelli realizes that his wife Alexina was the woman saved by Henri who became the king's lover for a night. Jealous, Fritelli is naturally more determined than ever to rid Poland of Henri, then he agrees with helping Laski and Alexina in getting rid of the king.

    When news come that Henri is too busy to receive Alexina, Fritelli is happy, because he doesn't want the lovers' trist to be rekindled. They leave, and Minka comes out of hiding, and bumps into the king himself. She doesn't know that he is the king and takes him for someone of the king's entourage, and tells him about the plot she just heard from Fritelli and Alexina.

    When Minka leaves, Henri sends for Fritelli and confronts him. After some initial resistance, Henri breaks Fritelli's denials by dictating a letter to him with Fritelli's own death sentence. The terrified Fritelli confesses and is immediately pardoned by the king, with the condition that he'll have to help him fool the conspirators. Henri wants to be taken to the ball in disguise, as a new recruit for the conspiracy. Henri wants Fritelli to introduce him to Laski as the Count de Nangis.

    The French noblemen enter. Henri finds a pretext to arrest the astonished Nangis, in order to get him out of the way and be able to use his identity to pretend to conspire against the king. Nangis is led away.

    Meanwhile Fritelli is talking to his wife, still trying to avoid her encounter with the king, but the king walks in on them and demands to be introduced (as Nangis) to that woman (he doesn't realize that she is Fritelli's wife, and Fritelli is happy to refrain from disclosing this piece of information). They both recognize each other as the lovers who had an affair in Venice but have no clue of their respective true identities. They are interrupted by Minka's voice off-stage singing in the park while she waits for Nangis. As the curtain falls, Nangis manages to jump out of a window and escape.

    Act 2

    The scene is the ballroom of the palace of the Count Albert Laski. They dance the Fête Polonaise. When the dancing is over, the Duke and Duchess of Fritelli arrive and introduce the new conspirator as the Count de Nangis (in reality the king in disguise). Minka overheas the introduction and knows that some mischief is being prepared. In a choral number feature the ensemble of conspirators, Henri swears to rid Poland of the French king, and Fratelli is charged with abducting his master. With most people gone, Henri takes pity of Fratelli and says he's got a more subtle plan to remove the king. Alexina points out that he used to be the king's friend, to which Henri (as Nangis) tells them he is no longer Henri's friend but his greatest enemy (Rien n'est aussi près de la haine que l'amitié - an interesting quartet in which Alexina and the King are joined by Fritelli and Laski).

    An interlude happens, the Sextuor des Serves and the Chanson Tzigane, pointless for the plot but musically adequate since it is sensuous and offers to Minka an opportunity for a brilliant solo when she tells her fellow serfs about her love for the real Nangis.

    The king enters, followed by Alexina, who tells him that he hates him for not having contacted her after their night of love. However the two engage in a Barcarolle to realize that they still love each other. When she leaves, alone with Fritelli, Henri wants to know from him whose wife she is. Fratelli replies with evasive statements, and suggests that Alexina is much older than she seems, has six children, false teeth, and a wooden leg (which, for Fratelli's great despair, Henri laughs off saying that he'd have noticed a wooden leg, implying that he has seen her nude).

    Meanwhile Minka is singing alone, when the real Nangis shows up, speaks briefly with her and hides. However his presence is mentioned from person to person until the news come to Laski's ears, who then orders a lock down of the castle, assuming that the real Nangis is the king. Alone, Henri summons Minka and tells her that Nangis must come at once. Minka calls him - and he shortly climbs in through a window and is immediately arrested. Henri (remember, disguised as Nangis) tells everybody that the man who was just arrested (the real Nangis) is the king. Everyone, including Minka, believes in what Henri says. The real Nangis himself is mystified until - in asides - Henri commands him to play the part, which he does with relish, in a spritely song (Je suis le roi).

    The poles demand his signature to an act of abdication, but prompted by Minka he refuses, and is put under lock and key. To the horror of the conspirators Laski tells them that the only way to ensure that the king does not return is to kill him that very night. Henri then fears for his friend and unmasks himself as the king, but nobody believes him, including because Alexina confirms that he is not the king. They draw lots and Henri is chosen to do the deed, but at that moment Minka re-enters, and boldly announces that she has set the King (i.e., the real Nangis) free, and the act closes with the fury of the Polish nobles, and Henri swearing that he will pursue the fugitive and kill him.

    Act 3

    The scene is now in an inn close to the Polish frontier frontier. The hall is full of decorations bearing the letter H in praise of Henri the new king. The innkeeper Basile and his staff are preparing to receive the new king of Poland. Fritelli arrives, and informs them that the new king will not be Henri but rather Ernest, the Archduke of Austria. Basile says it's all the same to him. They shout ‘long live the archduke’ and start to replace the decorations to match the newest king. Fratelli learns that a distingueshed-looking traveller is in room 8, and he assumes it's the Archduke of Austria. He goes nock on his door with a bouquet, only to see Henri de Valois step with a grin through the door. Henri was in the inn traveling to France, intent on making his escape from Poland. His coachman didn't want to travel any further than the border, and deposited him here. He asks for more horses to take him a step further and leave the country. He also asks Fratelli to tell the charming niece of Count Laski that he regrets that he had to leave without saying goodbye. He also wants hot water to shave. Fritelli goes fetch the hot water.

    Henri hears a coach approach outside and hides; it is Alexina who has arrived looking for her husband, in the company of Minka. Together they lament the departure of the men they love. Minka leaves. Fratelli arrives with the hot water, to Alexina's puzzlement - why is he acting like a serve? They argue. Henri comes out, to Alexina's surprise. All is explained, his identity as the king and hers as Fritelli's wife.

    Minka bursts in, saying that Count Laski is coming and will take her back as slave and slain the king. Henri says that he has kept his word and the king is no more, and leaves. Minka believes that he means that he killed the real Nangis (whom she still believes to be the king since she was absent a few minutes earlier when explanations were given). She runs after the king vowing revenge. Laski enters and is told that the king is dead. However it is revealed that the Archduke of Austria changed his mind and no longer wants Poland's throne, and the Polish noblemen, impressed by Henri's chivalry, have changed their minds and now want him as king.

    Minka continues to despair and talks of suicide. The real Henri appears and stops her, and convinces her that no, he is not an apparition, he's alive. He wants to marry her. Henri returns in triumph and accepts the throne, extends grace to everyone, pardons Laski, gives Manki as wife to Nangis, and makes Fritelli ambassador to Rome. The decorations bear the H again, and everybody rejoices, acclaiming the King in spite of himself.

    E) MUSICAL STRUCTURE
    , LINK TO SCORE

    Here is a link to the score (public domain):

    [clicky]

    This is what NY Times critic Anthony Tommasini on the score: "From the wondrous opening fanfare for brass and winds, with its wayward phrase structure and playful hints of medieval harmony, the score is glorious. Act II, at the grand palace, begins with a frenzied waltz for full forces, ecstatic music that makes Chabrier seem the French Richard Strauss. And only the very best love duets in Massenet are as good as the tender scene between Nangis and Minka."

    The orchestration is for strings, 2 flutes (2 piccolos), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 cornets à piston, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, triangle, side drum), 2 harps.

    The score is very original and contains dissonances that were rather a novelty at the time; according to Ravel its harmonies were revolutionary for French music and resulted in lasting influences.

    There are playful rhythms with splashes of Polish and Hungarian local color, such as the spicy mazurka of act III. The "Fête Polonaise" is lots of fun. The pace is frenetic, especially in the act finales that have pater ensembles: the one for the first act reminds us of Offenbach. Act II's finale has a very wild contrapuntal run. The whole thing is rather sweet and good-natured.

    There are frequent references to other composers, and funny parodies. Examples include Fritelli's parodically doleful mazurka in Act I ("Le Polonais est triste et grave"); references to Berlioz's Marche Hongroise in Alexina's outbursts in Act III; references to the overture to Tristan and Isolde; the 'Ensemble de la conjuration' was compared by contemporary critics to the 'Bénédiction des poignards' in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots; and Fritelli’s Act 3 couplets end each verse with a quote from the Hungarian March from Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust. The Fête Polonaise has been compared to Berlioz's Roman Carnival in Benvenuto Cellini.

    However, the structure of the piece indicates that Chabrier is in transition between opérette and opéra-comique. All the fun above, including the humouristic couplets by Fritelli, belong to the structure of an opérette, but Chabrier does get more serious and profoundly lyric in making of his piece a more substantial opéra-comique, for example in the duo between Alexina and Minka in Act III, which was described by Huebner as "one of the most beautiful numbers in fin-de-siècle French opera." Its flowing lyricism is extraordinary (we have provided a clip of it, further down).

    On the other hand, not only this piece makes reference to others, but it was also recovered by others. Satie and Debussy, for instance, have composed pieces based on the opera's Prélude. Ravel's choreographic poem La Valse has been said to have been inspired by the Fête Polonaise.

    Here are some of the notable numbers in more detail and by order of appearance:

    The Prélude introduces the leitmotif of the "theme of the conspiracy" which returns a few times later. The soldier's fanfare that ends the Prélude also ends the opera.

    Act I contains a rondo for Nangis that is disonant and stylistically interesting. We get comic couplets for Fritelli, with mazurka rhythm to evoke Poland. Minka is vocally the best character in the opera. She starts with a romance (Hélas! A l'esclavage) that is a beautiful piece with oboes in pizzicato. Then we have Henri's pavane (Beau pays, pays de gai soleil) which is a declaration of love for France, with Renaissance-like violas. Minka's and Henri's duo in Act I is a simple but compelling rondo.

    Act II opens with the Fête Polonaise, a well-known concert piece which however is more interesting in the opera, given that here it is performed with the chorus. It is joyful and colorful, with waltz rhythms that remind us of a similar piece in Chabrier's opera L'Education Manquée - only similar, because Chabrier was not known for repeating himself or canibalizing his own pieces like Rossini often did.

    Minka's Chanson Tzigane contains difficult coloratura for the soprano. Next we hear the Barcarolle duo between Alexina and Henri (Ô Venise la blonde! Ciel pur, joyeux printemps!), which starts with disonant harmonies, and then reaches beautiful vocalises that evoke Fauré, Debussy, and Hoffmann (in his more famous Barcarolle in Les Comtes d'Hoffmann).

    The Conspiracy Ensemble gets a melodramatic introduction, recovering the leitmotif introduced in the Prélude. Here Chabrier achieves great comic impact because the solemn music (à la Meyerbeer) is disrupted by Fritelli's buffo lines. The act ends in an interesting ensemble.

    The Entr'act recovers variations on the Barcarolle of Alexina and Henri.

    The third act has an initial chorus over the base of the orchestral Danse Slave. The music is a vivid allegro tempo mazurka, with chorus and ensemble in the style of opening of the last act of Carmen, which Chabrier showing his spices like he did when he composed España. Then we get a nocturne in two voices for Minka and Alexina, arguably the most beautiful vocal moment of the piece. It is delicate and subtle, and can be compared to R. Strauss' sublime music for the female voice.

    Then, the love duet between Minka and Nangis is another notable number, starting with a very beautiful arioso (Il n'est plus, hélas, celui que j'aime), followed by the tenor (Pour planer dans l'air libre et pur), then the soprano again. A second part (Minka, c'est toi la reine) recovers the initial melodie with full orchestral accompaniment.

    Finally, the last number is a pot-pourri in party mood, with general acclamation of the new king, ending with an exclamation of the opera's title: Vive le Roi malgré lui!

    F) THE BEST NUMBERS IN AUDIO/VIDEO CLIPS

    "Prélude to Act I"



    "Fete Polonaise"



    "Danse Slave"



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    Janine Micheau sings the "Chanson Tzigane", Minka's aria from the second act (it starts at 2'38"):



    Lyrics:

    Il est un vieux chant de Bohême
    Par des Tziganes apporté,
    Chant d'amour, chant de liberté,
    Cantique d'espoir! Doux poème!

    I
    L'amour est un Dieu
    D'humeur vagabonde,
    Qui règne en tout lieu,
    Sur terre et sur l'onde;
    On veut le saisir,
    Mais nul ne l'attrape,
    On croit l'asservir,
    Bien vite, il s'échappe.
    Narguant les pièges tendus,
    Il s'en débarrasse.
    Et, bientôt, l'on ne voit plus
    Qu'un point dans l'espace...
    C'est l'amour qui passe,
    Dévorant,
    Triomphant,
    Tout l'espace.
    C'est l'amour qui passe,
    Gai voyageur que rien ne lasse,
    A lui tout l'espace,
    C'est l'amour qui passe!

    II
    L'amour est celui
    Qui n'a pas de maître;
    Quand son jour a lui,
    Il faut s'y soumettre.
    Astre ou feu follet,
    En vain on l'évite.
    Le coeur qui lui plaît
    S'embrase bien vite...
    Il y touche! Oh? rien qu'un peu,
    Un peu, puis il passe
    Et voilà le coeur en feu
    Qui demande grâce.
    C'est l’amour qui passe.
    (etc.)

    Oui, c'est un vieux chant de Bohême
    Par des Tziganes apporté,
    Chant d'amour, chant de liberté,
    Cantique d'espoir, doux poème!

    NANGIS'S VOICE, OUTSIDE
    Où donc es-tu, ma belle?
    D'un coeur impatient,
    J'attends l'heureux moment,
    De te presser, fidèle,
    En mes bras ardemment.

    MINKA (very happy)
    Ecoutez! C'est lui! Partez! Ma joie est folle!
    Il n'est plus en prison. Quel bonheur!
    Auprès de lui, vite je vole.

    EVERYBODY
    Toujours l'amour sera vainqueur.
    Et se rira de ses persécuteurs.
    Toujours le Dieu malin sera vainqueur!
    C'est l’amour qui passe! (etc.)

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    The very beautiful "Duo-Barcarolle" (Act II)

    Alexina: Isabel Garcisanz
    Henri: Gino Quilico

    Conductor: Charles Dutoit
    Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
    Chœurs de Radio France



    Lyrics:

    ALEXINA
    Oui, je vous hais!
    Car, vos jouets,
    Ce sont nos âmes
    Nos tristes flammes.
    O faux amants,
    Tous vos serments
    Sont des mensonges,
    D'affreux mensonges
    Et, de nos voeux et de nos songes,
    Vous vous moquez.
    Je vous hais,
    Oui, je vous hais!

    LE ROI
    Je n'ai pas, je le jure,
    Tant de perversité
    Et je vous fis injure
    Contre ma volonté.
    ALEXINA
    Non! non! vous n'êtes rien qu'un traître,
    Vous l'avez fait trop voir.
    Me quitter et ne plus paraitre
    Après m'avoir promis de nous revoir.
    {Elle s'assied)
    LE ROI
    Je devais obéir.
    Aurais-je été capable,
    Vous si belle, de vous trahir?
    Je ne fus pas coupable,
    Je suis à vos genoux.
    Rappelez-vous! Rappelons-nous!
    Rappelons-nous!
    (Il s'assied auprès d'elle)
    I
    Sur le flot bleu nous glissions,
    en révant, Dans la gondole.
    ALEXINA
    Et vous étiez un amoureux fervent
    De votre idole.
    LE ROI
    Un gai concert de flûtes, de hautbois
    Et de mandores,
    ALEXINA
    Disait ce chant que reprenaient nos voix,
    Et que j'adore.
    ENSEMBLE
    O Venise la blonde,
    Ciel pur, joyeux printemps!
    O gondoles sur l'onde,
    Beaux paradis flottants.
    ALEXINA
    Ah! mon cceur se rappelle.
    LE ROI
    Oui, mon coeur se rappelle.
    ENSEMBLE
    Nos doux serments d'amour..

    --------------------

    Another very beautiful moment, the Act III duo with Minka and Alexina:

    Magali Léger -- Minka
    Maryline Fallot -- Alexina

    Choeur et Orchestre de l'Opera national de Lyon, conductor - Evelino Pido
    Lyon, Opera Nouvel, 04.03.2005



    Lyrics:

    MINKA
    O rêve éteint! Réveils funèbres!
    ALEXINA
    Quel danger il court aujourd'hui!
    MINKA
    Je me sens rouler dans les ténèbres!
    ALEXINA
    Je voudrais être auprès de lui!
    MINKA
    Toi, dont la lèvre
    Fit fleurir sur la mienne, un baiser!
    ALEXINA
    Oh! Que ta fièvre,
    Fol amour, puisse encore m'embraser!
    MINKA
    Dieu clément, sauve-le, je l'aime!
    Que plutôt je meure pour lui.
    ALEXINA
    Nangis va partir et je l'aime!
    L'espoir entrevu, fantôme vain, s'est enfui.
    ALEXINA & MINKA
    Hélas! O tendre rêve!
    O toi qui me charmais,
    Mort pour jamais!
    Ainsi l'aube trop brève
    Des beaux jours qu'on rêve
    S'en va!
    ALEXINA
    Une crainte vague m'oppresse.
    MINKA
    Mon cœur frémit, glacé d'effroi!
    ALEXINA
    Mon âme est pleine de détresse.
    MINKA
    Je tremble pour les jours du roi.
    ALEXINA
    Nangis parti, douleur extrême,
    A l'espoir, il faut dire adieu.
    MINKA
    Hélas! Il est le roi, celui que j'aime;
    Et je n'attends plus rien que de Dieu!
    ALEXINA & MINKA
    Hélas! O tendre rêve! etc.

    ------------

    At the end of Act III, the duo with Nangis and Minka (same performance above, Nangis is Yann Beuron):



    NANGIS/MINKA
    Pour planer dans l'air libre et pur,
    L'alouette a l'aile assez forte,
    Et si haut que l'aigle l'emporte,
    Elle est chez elle en plein azur!

    -----------

    Cher pays, the declaration of love to France by Henri in act I, sung here by Nicolas Rivenq:



    Cher [beau] pays, Pays du gai soleil
    Si loin de toi, quelle est ma ssouffrance!
    Je te vois dans le songe, au réveil,
    Toujours, partout, beau pays de France.
    (Il respire le parfum des lettres)
    Parfum charmeur,
    Qui vient de la terre
    A mon coeur si chère,
    Exquise odeur,
    Douce senteur!
    Voix lointaine et tendre
    Qui me fais entendre
    O pays, ta chanson!
    Je t'aime, ô ma France chère,
    Comme une maîtresse, une mère
    Et j.e sens mon rgeur se briser
    Et je sens tout mon être s'embraser
    En recevant ton baiser.

    G) PERFORMANCE HISTORY AND NOTABLE STAGINGS

    Premiere: 17 May 1887, Tuesday. Théâtre National de l'Opéra-Comique (2° Salle Favart de la Comédie-Italienne, Théâtre Favart). First version.

    Second presentation, 18 May 1887, Wednesday, same theater. First version.

    Third presentation, 25 May 1887, Wednesday, same theater, Salle Feydeau - a fire interrompts the presentation. First version.

    16 November 1887, Wednesday, Salle du Châtelet de l'Ancien Théâtre-Lyrique de la Comédie-Italienne (Opéra-Comique, Théâtre des Nations, place du Châtelet). Second version.

    1890 - Karlsruhe, Dresden, and Koln, in Germany. No other details.

    1892 - Toulouse, at the Capitole theater.

    4 November 1929, Monday, Théâtre National de l'Opéra-Comique (3° Salle Favart de la Comédie-Italienne, Théâtre Favart). Third version. Instrumentation by Maurice Ravel. Revision by Albert Carré.

    6 Novermber 1929, Wednesday. Same.

    28 January 1937, Thursday. Same (Salle Favart, Ravel, Carré).

    21 February 1937, Sunday, same.

    1941, Opéra-Comique, in celebration of the composers centenary.

    9 May 1945, Wednesday. Salle Favart, First act only, together with La Valse, choreographic poem by Maurice Ravel.

    20 September 1946, Friday, Salle Favart - all three acts, third version.

    1 December 1949, Thursday. New York City Ballet; City Center Theater of Music and Drama in New York. "Fête polonaise" from "Le roi malgré lui" among other ballet numbers.

    18 May 1952, Sunday. Maggio Musicale Fiorention and New York City Ballet, Teatro Comunale di Firenze. "Fête polonaise" from "Le roi malgré lui" among other ballet numbers, choreography George Balanchine.

    14 October 1953, Wednesday. New York City Ballet at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. Same.

    18 October 1953, Sunday. New York City Ballet at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze. Same.

    26 August 1956, Sunday. New York City Ballet at the Festspielhaus Salzburg. Same.

    19 December 1959, Saturday. Théâtre National de l'Opéra-Comique (3° Salle Favart de la Comédie-Italienne, Théâtre Favart). All three acts, third version.

    20 June 1961, Tuesday. Maggio Musicale Fiorention and London Festival Ballet at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze.
    "Fête polonaise" from "Le roi malgré lui" among other ballet numbers.

    21 June 1961, same.

    1960's - five broadcasts by Radio France, that survived in the radio's archives.

    18 November 1976, American premiere at the Juilliard in New York City.

    1978 - Toulouse, Capitole.

    1984 - Toulouse again, recorded on Erato CD, conducted by Charles Dutoit - only available commercial recording.

    22 April 1969, London Festival Ballet, at the Teatro alla Fenice di Venezia. Same.

    1994 - British premiere, at Opera North

    2001 - No dates available - Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, NY.

    2001 - No dates available - New York City Opera, NYC, NY

    13 February 2005. Avery Fisher Hall. American Symphony Orchestra, Concert Chorale of New York. All three acts, concert performance. Third version. Conductor Leon Botstein. The cast was reviewed by the New York Times as follows: "The cast was splendid, with the hardy baritone John Packard as Henri, the agile and spirited coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon as Minka, the plaintive tenor Philippe Castagner as Nangis, the robust baritone Andrew Schroeder as Fritelli, and the lustrous soprano Twyla Robinson as Alexina."

    4 March 2005, Lyon, conducted by Evelino Pidò, broadcast on 7 May 2005 by Radio 4 (NL)

    27 April to 9 May, 2009 - Opéra-Comique, a revival of the same production from Lyon in 2005.
    Stage director Laurent Pelly
    Conductor William Lacey
    Choeurs de l'Opéra National de Lyon,
    Orchestre de Paris,
    With Jean-Sébastien Bou, Magali Léger, Franck Leguérinel, Sophie Marin-Degor, Gordon Gietz and Nabil Suliman
    See a clip of this staging:



    H) DISCOGRAPHY (ONLY ONE RECORDING) AND RADIO BROADCASTS

    This opera has had so far only one commercial recording. The original one is out of the catalog, but it was just reissued on April 24, 2012, Erato label, ASIN B007C7FDLU. Here are the two covers - the current one first, and the old one second:




    The score is heavily cut on this CD. Only the musical numbers remain, and the spoken dialogues and recitatives are completely eliminated. It can be found at Amazon.com for some $20, and from marketplace vendors, new, for some $10. Link [here].

    Reviews for this CD are favorable. Barbara Hendricks as Minka gets the most praise, followed by Peter Jeffes' Nangis. Gino Quilico's Henri is considered to be good, while Isabel Garcisanz's Alexina gets mixed reports: while she is approved by one reviewer, another one says she completely destroyed the role. Conductor Charles Dutoit is said to do a very good job, and the sound is considered to be clear.

    From Radio France broadcasts, recordings have been made available on mp3.

    There is one also with the music only, and the recitatives are replaced with a short narration:

    Paris, Radio France
    24 March 1960

    Ensemble Le Madrigal
    Choeur de la Radiodiffusion française
    Orchestre Lyrique de la Radiodiffusion française

    Musical conductor: Eugène Bigot
    Chorus masters: René Hallix, Yvonne Gouvernet

    Henri de Valois, roi de Pologne: Willy Clément
    Minka: Janine Micheau
    Le Comte de Nangis: Michel Cadiou
    Alexina, Duchesse de Fritelli: Christiane Castelli
    Le Duc de Fritelli: Xavier Depraz

    Janine Micheau is great as Minka in this performance. Willy Clément is very good too. Christiane Castelli however has terrible diction. Sound balance is very poor, with the sounds from the orchestra being quite muffled while the singers at least can be heard very clearly.

    A complete one with recitatives from a performance in Lyon in 2005 is available on mp3. Several clips of it are also available on YouTube, with clear and beautiful sound, over still pictures of the production.

    Opéra National de Lyon March 4, 2005
    Recorderd via Radio 4 (NL) - broadcast May 7, 2005
    Conductor Evelino Pidò (not good according to Schigolch)

    Minka: Magali Léger (s)
    Le duc de Fritelli: Laurent Naouri (br)
    Henri de Valois: Nicolas Rivenq (br)
    Le comte de Nangis: Yann Beuron (t)
    Alexina: Maryline Fallot (s)

    Here is one of the YouTubes from this performance:



    I) WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE UPCOMING PRODUCTION AT THE BARD SUMMERSCAPE

    For one thing, it will be Chabrier's original, first version, not the Carré version that has been staged since 1929. Second, Thaddeuss Strassberger, the director, has indicated in an exclusive interview for Opera Lively that his concept is an allegory of the attempt to impose to a people, the values and institutions of another people (as in, the French exporting their monarch to Polland), which obviously will have some resonance regarding current events.

    Furthermore, both the director and the conductor, according to Mr. Strassberger, tried to avoid making of the piece a big Polish joke - because in a sense, the joke is on the French who try to impose their ways. This is how what the Polish say in the Fête Polonaise, putting down France, efficiently counters Fritelli's couplets putting down Poland.

    To be continued... As we get more details regarding the upcoming production, we'll update this article. Hopefully we'll have interviews with the artists - and later, we'll have a review of the performance.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      I'm not a big fan of this opera, I prefer Gwendoline and, of course, Chabrier's mélodies.

      Hope you enjoy. Beautiful theater, indeed.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Liam Bonner has confirmed that he is willing to be interviewed by Opera Lively a second time for his role as Henri. He'll also talk to his cast mates so hopefully by mid July closer to the performance we'll have more interviews and insights about this piece.


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