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Emmanuel Chabrier: Le Roi malgré lui
Gino Quilico (Henri de Valois), Peter Jeffes (Comte de Nangis), Jean-Philippe Lafont (Duc de Fritelli), Chris de Moor (Laski), Barbara Hendricks (Minka), Isabel Garcisanz (Alexina), André Battedou (Basile), Martin Shopland (Liancourt), Alain Munier (d’Elbeuf), Maurice Sieyes (Maugiron), Malcolm Walker (Villequier), Philippe Bohe (Caylus), Patrick Vilet (A Soldier), Radio France Chorus, Jacques Jouineau (Chorus Master), New Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France, Charles Dutoit (Conductor)
Recording: Studio 103, Radio France, Paris (February 1984) – 131’56
Erato-Radio France #2564 66213-3 – Booklet in English, French and German; Libretto in French

Though best known for the colorful, snappy España, Emmanuel Chabrier reached into his pockets to pull out a humble handful of operatic pieces with varying themes. With exception of L’Etoile (1877), fluttering on the fringes of the repertoire, the remaining collection go unrecognized; therefore, it’s to Erato-Radio France’s credit for capturing Le Roi malgré lui back in 1984 that features an all star cast.

Chabrier’s creation, a bit of nostalgic Offenbachian buffoonery with apportioned ethereal waves of Ravel, nonetheless, provides an ardent zeal of its own. Le Roi malgré lui is perched on the historical branch of 1574, a time when Henry de Valois, recently elected King of Poland, finally acquiesces to the crown despite his longings to return to his native France. How he gets to that point is the essence of the plot. Chabrier paints with chivalric flair involving no more than six principal singers in what has to be one of the most complicated stories to understand. A bit confusing, this opéra-comique is a respite journey of refreshing duets, ensembles and solos, masterfully translated by esteemed Charles Dutoit.

Gino Quilico’s vocal qualities remind us of his characteristic majestic lyricism found within Bizet’s La Jolie fille de Perth, and the pairing with Isabel Garcisanz’s Alexina in the “Barcarolle” is ravishing. Barbara Hendricks’ Minka flourishes with exceptional brilliance, delivering delectable grace notes; alongside Garcisanz their “Nocturne” shines with melodic legato. Famed French bass-baritone Jean-Philippe Lafont adds a great whimsical edge as The Duke of Fritelli while Peter Jeffes’ velvety reflections resonate nicely in the role of Nangis.

Adding yet another dimension to Le Roi malgré lui, the Radio France Chorus has a bowling presence upon conclusion of each act. The apex of musical delight is unfurled during Act II’s bombastic opening “Polonaise” with Chabrier pulling out all the stops to make this crescendo-driven entrée the ultimate dance number within the world of opera.

Slightly over two hours, this Erato-Radio France CD strips all spoken dialogue, but the recording company makes the full French libretto available (French only) via the internet that’s beautifully rendered. Emmanuel Chabrier’s imaginative use of particular instruments (i.e. harps, trumpets, cymbals) demonstrates his heartfelt outpouring of unbridled joy and enthusiasm. Even if you’re remotely a fan of España or the Joyeuse marche, turn your attention to Le Roi malgré lui for a journey of unbridled happiness.

Christie Grimstad




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