WORKS: Le Roi d’Ys
PERFORMER: Giuseppina Piunti, Guylaine Girard, Eric Martin-Bonnet, Sébastien Guèze, Werner Van Mechelen; Opéra Royal de Wallonie/Patrick Davin; dir. Jean-Louis Pichon (Wallonie, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: Dynamic 33592 (NTSC system; Dolby 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
Another in Dynamic’s invaluable range of opera rarities, in modest but acceptable performances. Edouard Lalo’s grand opera remained popular in France until after World War II (its lively overture was among my grandmother’s favourite 78s!) but never caught on elsewhere, failing at the New York Met despite starring Beniamino Gigli, Rosa Ponselle and Frances Alda.
Chiefly responsible is its stuffy, verbose libretto, the Breton legend of sea-swallowed Ys, also the site of Debussy’s ‘Cathédrale engloutie’, watered down (as it were) with Lohengrin and Weber’s Euryanthe.
Lalo’s music is much more spirited, dipping a tentative toe in Wagnerian waters, not unlike Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila but beefier and less tuneful, despite some ear-catching numbers: the famously elegant Aubade with some Breton tunes, a robust battle-hymn, and spitfire scenas for the only rounded character, the jealous princess Margared.
She’s sung here by Giuseppina Piunti with Italianate fire and looks to offset her hooty tone and indifferent French; Guylaine Girard as her goody-goody sister, Rozenn, is comparatively pallid.
As the eponymous King their father, Eric Martin-Bonnet is strong but raw-toned; Sébastien Guèze’s Mylio, object of her jealousy, looks youthful, sings the Aubade decently but elsewhere forces his voice uncomfortably. Werner Van Mechelen, last heard as Netherlands Opera’s Alberich, fares better as the villainous Karnac.
Patrick Davin conducts with some verve, if less power than Cluytens’s 1950s recording; and although the Daumier-like Victorian costumes look somewhat silly, shawls and stovepipe hats and uniforms style pompier, the staging with its rocky cliffs and ruinous walls is effective enough, especially the rainwashed final cataclysm.
Altogether a fascinating relic, still with some power to please, and currently the only modern recording. Michael Scott Rohan