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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Opera Preview: Le Roi malgré lui

Leon Botstein unearths a rare gem by Emmanuel Chabrier.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"I would rather have written Le Roi malgré lui than the Ring of the Nibelungen."--Maurice Ravel

Costume design for the Cossacks in Le Roi malgré lui.
Costume design sketch by Mattie Ulrich © Bard Festival 2012.
This year's Bard Festival is devoted to the music and culture of 19th century France. As a result, the July opera offering at the Fisher Center (located on the picturesque campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson) isLe Roi malgré lui, ("The King in Spite of Himself") a rarely performed comedy by French composer Emmauel Chabrier.

Chabrier is best remembered by opera lovers for writing L'Etoile, a surreal comedy of kingship and succession that has been mounted occasionally at Glimmerglass and at the New York City Opera. Le Roi deals with some similar themes.

It is the story of a ne'er-do-well French nobleman, Henri, who somehow finds himself in line to take the throne of Poland. The opera's plot mainly consists of the reluctant king's increasingly convoluted efforts to escape the country and the pressures of his job.


Liam Bonner takes the titular role of Henri in this new production by Thaddeus Strassberger, whose previous operatic efforts at Bard included an acclaimed mounting of Schrecker's Die Ferne Klang and Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, probably the most intimidating of all the French grand operas of the 19th century. This is a co-production with the Wexford Opera Festival in Ireland. Leon Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra.

Le Roi malgré lui opens July 27.

Recording Recommendations:
Choeurs et Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France cond. Charles Dutoit (Erato/WBC 1984)
Henri: Gino Quilico
Minka: Barbara Hendricks
Nangis: Peter Jeffes
Just when you think that there's no recording available of this obscure French opera, careful Google searching revealed this reissue from Warner Brothers Classics. Charles Dutoit is one of the strongest conductors in this repertory. The cast boasts second-generation baritone Gino Quilico and soprano songbird Barbara Hendricks.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.