Le roi de Lahore

reviewed by Anna Picard in The Times

Defeated in battle, thwarted in love and stabbed in the back by his dastardly rival, the murdered hero of Le roi de Lahore is transported to paradise, where he pleads for permission to return to Earth to rejoin his sweetheart, Sita. The plot of Massenet's Orientalist reincarnation revenge fantasy reads like a mash-up between A Matter of Life and Death and The Terminator, but it unfolds as a Michelin-starred musical tasting menu: delicately flavoured, brilliantly executed and highly calorific yet easily digestible.

What do the enchanted gardens of Hindu heaven sound like to a 19th-century Parisian? Like supple saxophones and clouds of shimmering trills; like the gentle susurration of a tambourine and a voluptuous arabesque for unaccompanied flute; like the sturdy lustre of Michael Spyres's tenor voice in King Alim's supplication Redonne-moi la vie.

Can one lifetime with the one you love be worth ten centuries of hell? In a grand opera such as Le roi de Lahore it can, although the ending for Alim and Sita (Anush Hovhannisyan) is far from happy. Chelsea Opera Group's concert performance under Renato Balsadonna made the strongest case for this exotic rarity.

Plumped up with three trombones, two trumpets, two cornets and a cimbasso, Massenet's flamboyant score dazzled and seduced. There is no flab and although the chorus struggled to be heard over the brass, this was a distinguished account from the venerable amateur choir and orchestra.

The casting of Spyres, a singer of subtlety and stamina, was a serious coup. William Dazeley delivered a moustache-twirling turn as the evil Scindia, his French idiomatic, while Justina Gringyte showed wit, character and a knockout technique as Kaled. Hovhannisyan has a lovely voice but her French was garbled and her intonation wayward. Both basses, Joshua Bloom (Indra/Chef) and Jihoon Kim (Timour) need to relax.

Copyright © 4th March 2015 The Times

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