F DAVID Lalla Roukh
Lalla Roukh (1862) was the fifth of the seven operas of Félicien David, a French contemporary of Mendelssohn, born in 1810. It was his most successful piece, a fairy-tale fantasy set in the East, setting the pattern for other oriental operas by such composers as Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Delibes and Bizet. When the following year the young Bizet produced The Pearl Fishers, he was accused of copying David.
Before writing his two-act fantasy, the composer had in fact travelled in the Middle East and had been captivated by its atmosphere. He took the plot of Lalla Roukh from a story by the Irish writer Thomas Moore (1779-1852), a friend of Lord Byron, telling of an Indian princess promised in marriage to the King of Bukhara who, on the way to meet him, is captivated by the singing of a minstrel. She falls in love and determines not to marry the king. But then it turns out that the minstrel is the king in disguise wanting to test his bride in advance, so all ends happily.
The big strength of this debut recording by Opera Lafayette of Washington DC is that all the principals have such firm, clear voices, very precise, with not a single wobbler among them. Marianne Fiset as the heroine has a bright, perfectly placed soprano, attacking even the most exposed notes with precision. She is matched by the lighter soprano of her companion, Mirza, sung by Nathalie Paulin, who copes superbly with the coloratura writing, clear and precise in everything, sweet and pure.
The tenor role of the hero Noureddin (alias the king) is sung by the tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, again with a firm, clear voice. There remains the buffo character of Baskir, beautifully sung, with extremely clear diction in all his patter numbers. Add to that a couple of extra characters and an excellent chorus and you have a most attractive package, with each act complete on a single Naxos disc.
As presented there is no recitative, and I can only assume that any spoken dialogue is omitted – perfectly acceptable in such a novelty. One can simply sit back and enjoy a sequence of delightful numbers, notably Lalla’s ‘O nuit d’amour’ at the start of Act 2, the charming if brief Romance of the hero and the ecstatic final solo for the heroine, exuberant in joy. The whole opera is rounded off with a march ensemble, again typical of the genre. Clear, atmospheric recording; a synopsis is provided in the booklet while the libretto may be found online.