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By and large the vocal items were played pretty straight and in the rather diffuse first act this approach worked pretty well. Henri's first entrance, for example, where the singer came in wearing Victorian street clothes and the stage managers reverently helped him change, creating an atmosphere whereby we were unsure whether they were courtiers helping Henri dress or stage managers helping their revered lead actor.

But in the second and third acts, which were played in more or less full costume, the problems set in; Pelly was not creating real people about whom we cared -- the closest that he came to this was in the depiction of the Victorian singers, and Chabrier did not write music for them. So as the plot developed, we did not learn to care about the characters on stage.

This was a shame, because musically the performance could hardly have been bettered and Agathe Mélinand's new dialogue had the possibility of being both viable and funny.

Le Roi malgré lui - Opéra de Lyon. Photo © Gérard Amsellem
Le Roi malgré lui - Opéra de Lyon. Photo © Gérard Amsellem

During Act 2, though, Pelly did came close to sabotaging two of the major musical numbers. During Henri and Alexina's magical barcarolle (for me, the highlight of the opera) the two actors were moved around on platforms in a manner perhaps meant to imitate a gondola (the soprano had to mime queasiness) but which just looked ridiculous. And in the Act 2 finale, one of the stage managers flew across the stage in the guise of an angel and the curtain came down on him entangled in the scenery.

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Copyright © 10 March 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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