Tuesday 27 June 2023

Le roi de Lahore: Dorset Opera Festival give Massenet's first major success its first stage outing in the UK since 1879

Design by Philippe Chaperon for Act V of Massenet's Le roi de Lahore at the Paris Opera in 1877
Design by Philippe Chaperon for Act V of Massenet's Le roi de Lahore at the Paris Opera in 1877

Massenet's Le Roi de Lahore was the third of his operas to be produced in Paris. The production, at the Palais Garnier in 1877, gave him his first major success and spawned performances across Europe. Despite being performed and recorded by Joan Sutherland (in 1977), the opera has never reached the modern-day popularity of some of Massenet's other operas and remains something of a rarity. Chelsea Opera Group performed it in 2015 [see my review], the first London performance in over a century and now the Dorset Opera Festival, artistic director Roderick Kennedy, is giving the work a rare stage outing. Ella Marchment directs and Jeremy Carnall conducts with a cast including Seljan Nasibli, Kezia Bienek and Amar Muchhala. Performances are on 26 and 27 July 2023 at Bryanston, Blandford Forum.

Dorset Opera has history with Massenet, it gave the UK stage premiere of Le Cid in 2018 (an opera known to people, if at all, from its recording) to great effect, and further back I remember seeing Massenet's Herodiade there in 2006 (with Rosalind Plowright in the cast).

It has to be admitted that the plot is a flimsy thing, which seems to be the bastard off-spring of Delibes' Lakme (1883) and Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles (1863). It is one of a group of operas that Massenet wrote using the old-fashioned five-act grand opera format, complete with ballet (where there is a duet for two saxophones). 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. But he would quickly move away from this format, and explore all manner of operatic genres.

Massenet's Le roi de Lahore has not been staged in the UK since 1879 so this should be quite an event. The opera's orientalism remains a problem and it will be interesting to see what creative solutions Ella Marchment (always an imaginative director) comes up with along with a cast that features Azerbaijan-born soprano Seljan Nasibli, Bombay-born tenor Amar Muchhala and mezzo-soprano Kezia Bienek (British born, of Mauritian and Lithuanian heritage). Certainly don't expect anything like the image at the top of this post!

Full details from Dorset Opera Festival's website.

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