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Edouard Lalo

Edouard Lalo Composer

Le roi d'Ys (opera)

Performances: 24
Tracks: 42
  • Le roi d'Ys (opera)
    Year: 1875-88
    Genre: Opera
    Pr. Instrument: Voice
Best known outside France for his Symphonie espagnole (1874), Edouard Lalo was recognized in his own country almost entirely for his opera Le roi d'Ys (The King of Ys). Lalo began setting Edouard Blau's libretto, about the legendary Breton city, in 1875. After the Théâtre-Lyrique rejected the opera in 1878 and the Paris Opéra did the same in 1879, Lalo extracted several numbers from the work and performed them in concert. In 1886, he completely revised the work and tried once again to find a company to stage it; two years later, the Opéra-Comique finally agreed to produce the opera. The premiere was nearly a disaster: The management of the Opéra-Comique (performing in the Théâtre des Nations) oversold the house, causing such a commotion that the audience did not quiet down until the beginning of the second act. Still, those who managed to find seats enjoyed what they heard, enthusiastically applauding and calling for encores. Le roi d'Ys became Lalo's most successful work for the stage, achieving its 100th performance at the Opéra-Comique by the following June.

The opera would have been more appropriately named "Margared d'Ys," for the King has a very small role and is not pivotal to the story. Margared, on the other hand, is onstage throughout the opera and is a character of tremendous depth, torn between succumbing to her own passions and doing what is right for others. In the manner of Wagner's Ortrud, Margared redeems herself through self-sacrifice at the end of the opera. Lalo created the role of Margared for his wife, the singer Julie de Maligny, though she never actually performed it. She did, however, perform several of the arias in concert.

Other characters are more predictable. Mylio and Rozenn have no hidden agendas, and their music is consistent from scene to scene. Karnac's music is sinister from the outset, belying his verbal assurance that he is now an ally of the King. St. Corentin functions as a deus ex machina. Both musically and dramatically, the two couples, Margared and Karnac, and Mylio and Rozenn, are juxtaposed in a manner similar to the way Wagner draws the "good" and "bad" couples in Lohengrin.

The overture unfolds along the lines of early nineteenth century models, functioning as a preview of what is to come. References to music associated with Mylio, Rozenn and the people of Ys (along with a quote from Tannhäuser) make up the material, which receives wonderfully transparent orchestration. Indeed, throughout the entire opera the orchestration is clear and subservient to the melodic lines, which are generally simple and diatonic. Lalo uses instrumental color as a backdrop for the vocal parts, increasing the importance of the orchestra in the large ensembles.

In Le roi d'Ys Lalo writes in a chromatic idiom that is more akin to music of Liszt than that of Wagner. Forceful 6/8 meters, a favorite of the composer, underline the most dramatic sections. Some of the choruses suggest an echo of Breton folk songs, which Lalo surely learned from his Bretonese wife (who also may have brought the legend of Ys to her husband's attention in the first place). Although Le roi d'Ys contains certain characteristics of traditional grand opera, this highly individual work marks a new direction in French music of its time.

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