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Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Le roi malgre lui is a witty, deliciously sparkling opera-comique score which ever since its premiere in 1887 has been hailed by musicians as masterly: according to Ravel, its harmonic thinking also changed the whole course of French music...scintillating (with wickedly gleeful side-glances at Meyerbeer, Wagner, Offenbach and Berlioz). His orchestration is always felicitous, and there are numerous skilful elaborate ensembles (including a conspiratorial fugue).
Connoisseurs of hopelessly chaotic and incomprehensible opera plots can have a field-day with this one. The original libretto, based by two hacks on an old vaudeville, was so confused
that Chabrier took it out of their hands and gave it to his friend the poet Jean Richepin, who revised the greater part of the text before giving up in despair, whereupon the composer was obliged to finish the job himself as best he could. Vincent d'Indy wrote to Chabrier after the dress rehearsal that he was completely at a loss to follow the action (which centres on Henri de Valois's reluctance to accept the Polish crown in 1574—part of the political scheming of his mother Catherine de Medici and leave Paris behind; so he actively welcomes a conspiracy against his accession and exchanges identities with one of his courtiers, but amorous complications set in with a woman who turns out to be the wife of his Italian chamberlain, who is in fact also in the conspiracy . and so on). After only three performances, the theatre was burnt down, and when the piece was taken up again, savage cuts were made in the score; when the work was revived in 1929 a new version was prepared, which however was just as muddled. The present recording is a conflation of both versions (!), and as a final straw all the connecting dialogue has been omitted, so that in order to make head or tail of what is going on one needs to break off and pause at the end of each number and attempt to grasp the intricate printed summary of the action.
Nevertheless one can put up with all this, because Le roi malgre lui is a witty, deliciously sparkling opera-comique score which ever since its premiere in 1887 has been hailed by musicians as masterly: according to Ravel, its harmonic thinking also changed the whole course of French music, its influence on Satie (and thence Debussy) is apparent from its very first page. The vivacious Fete polonaise which opens Act 2 and the so-called Danse slave at the start of Act 3 have become fairly familiar as concert pieces (minus the choral and vocal lines), and their breezy orchestration reminds us that this is the same ebullient Chabrier whose Espana is one of the jewels of light-weight orchestral music; but the highly individual melodic invention which appears to bubble out of him throughout the opera—`appears' because, incredibly enough, he confessed that composing was hard work and that he "lacked facility" is mostly more subtle, more romantic (e.g. Henri's apostrophe to France, or the exquisite duet for the two sopranos) or still more scintillating (with wickedly gleeful side-glances at Meyerbeer, Wagner, Offenbach and Berlioz). His orchestration is always felicitous, and there are numerous skilful elaborate ensembles (including a conspiratorial fugue).
Gramophone - [November, 1984 - Review of the original release.]
Works on This Recording
Le roi malgré lui by Emmanuel Chabrier
Isabel Garcisanz (Mezzo Soprano),
Barbara Hendricks (Soprano),
Gino Quilico (Baritone),
Peter Jeffes (Tenor),
Jean-Philippe Lafont (Baritone)
French Radio New Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1887; France
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Obscure work deserves hearing November 22, 2013
By David Buechler (West Sacramento, CA) See All My Reviews
"I was familiar only with the dance scene from the second act the entire opera is a good listening experience for the music alone. This production skips a lot of the spoken dialogue which is okay with me since I am not a francophone. All in all I found this to be a delightful piece and the story is quite cute. I have enjoyed Hendricks and Quilico on previous recordings and they do well here as well."
Richly rewarding May 4, 2013
By J. Tatnall (West Grove, PA) See All My Reviews
"French opera is so much more than Faust and Carmen; Chabrier is so much more than Espana! This opera-comique will charm you. The ensembles and choral numbers are especially fine. Richly orchestrated, the work sparkles from start to finish. The fine cast brings this gem to life under the leadership of Charles Dutoit. Why only 4 stars? No dialogue, just the music, (which may be a plus for some listeners.)"