|Anush Hovhannisyan - © Vigen Mnoyan|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 1 2015
First London performance for over a century Massenet's first major success and it certainly blew the cobwebs away
Jules Massenet's Le roi de Lahore was his first big operatic success. Premiered in Paris in 1877, it was the first new work to be performed at the newly rebuilt Paris Opera and went on to have significant international success before being overtaken by his later works and being left to one side. Apparently not performed in London since 1880 (!), Chelsea Opera Group's performance of the work on Sunday 1 March 2015 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was certainly of more than passing interest, particularly as they had assembled such a fine cast. Conducted by Renato Balsadonna, the cast included soprano Anush Hovhannisyan as Sita, and tenor Michael Spyres as Alim, the king of the title, plus Jihoon Kim, William Dazeley, Justina Gringyte and Joshua Bloom. Robert Lloyd was due to sing the role of the god Indra, but his illness meant that Joshua Bloom stood in and thus sang two roles.
The opera was specifically designed for the Paris Opera, and is a large-scale five-act work complete with a ballet in act three (including a duet for two saxophones). Chelsea Opera Group performed it discreetly cut and with the ballet trimmed to just three movements, bringing the running time to three hours (including interval). Massenet took full advantage of the resources the Paris Opera had to offer, so that the large orchestra included four horns, two trumpets, two cornet, three trombones and a cimbasso, with four percussion players and timpani.