Massenet: Le Roi de Lahore

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: Dynamic
ALBUM TITLE: Massenet – Le Roi de Lahore
WORKS: Le Roi de Lahore
PERFORMER: Giuseppe Gipali, Ana María Sánchez, Vladimir Stoyanov, Federico Sacchi, Cristina Sogmaister, Riccardo Zanellato, Carlo Agostini; Chorus & Orchestra of La Fenice, Venice/Marcello Viotti
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 487 1-2
Massenet’s first work for the Paris Opéra, Le roi de Lahore is an exotic Hindu romance dressed up as a full five-act grand opera. Its titular royal hero, Alim, dies and ascends to heaven at the end of Act II, only to be reincarnated as a beggar two acts later, just in time to rescue the virgin priestess Sita from the bed of the murderous usurper Scindia, finally finding paradise in his dying beloved’s arms in Act V. The opera was a huge success, chalking up 30 performances at the Palais Garnier within a year of its 1877 opening. Massenet revised the score, however, for its Italian premiere a year later in Turin, reinstating a sensuous showpiece serenade for the king’s companion Kaled that had been cut before the Paris run. He also added a brand-new scene to open Act IV, though he soon replaced that too with a more dramatic solo for Sita written for the opera’s Rome debut.

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Recorded ‘live’ in December 2004 at the newly restored Teatro La Fenice, Dynamic’s new set is billed as the premiere recording of the official ‘new critical edition’, prepared and conducted by the theatre’s music director Marcello Viotti. Given that Viotti died suddenly, aged only 50, just two months later, I’d like to be more enthusiastic about his last recording. But despite his own obvious engagement and relatively strong contributions from his Albanian tenor and Bulgarian baritone, the rest of his cast simply can’t compare with Decca’s classic 1979 studio set conducted by Bonynge. His all-star cast – with Luis Lima as a liquid-voiced Alim, Sherrill Milnes and Huguette Tourangeau both on top form as Scindia and Kaled, and a truly awesome guest appearance by Nicolai Ghiaurov as the life-giving god Indra – is only let down by the fifty-something Joan Sutherland’s rather matronly-sounding vestal virgin. But even her soporific swooning is preferable to Dynamic’s text-responsive but squally Spanish Sita; and, let loose on the big Act IV scena, La Stupenda certainly earns her sobriquet. Mark Pappenheim