Orpha Phelan’s imaginative new manufacturing of Félicien David’s Lalla-Roukh at Wexford Pageant

David: Lalla-Roukh - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh – Wexford Pageant Opera (Picture CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

Félicien David: Lalla-Roukh; Gabrielle Philiponet, Pablo Bemsch, Ben McAteer, Niamh O’Sullivan, director: Orpha Phelan, conductor Steven White; Wexford Pageant Opera on the Nationwide Opera Home, Wexford
Reviewed 30 October 2022 (★★★★)

David’s pleasant Orientalist fantasy in an imaginative translocation with successful performances from a global solid

Wexford Pageant Opera staged Félicien David’s 1859 opera Herculaneum in 2016; the composer’s solely totally sung grand opera; his different 4 stage works had been all written as opera comique with spoken dialogue.  As a part of the 2022 Magic and Music season, Wexford Pageant Opera staged Félicien David’s Lalla-Roukh, written in 1862 for the Opéra Comique however having a neighborhood connection because the libretto relies on the eponymous poem by Irish poet Thomas Moore, whose mom was from Wexford.

We caught a efficiency on 30 October 2022 within the O’Reilly Theatre on the Nationwide Opera Home, Wexford. Orpha Phelan directed, Steven White carried out, designs had been by Madeleine Boyd, lighting by D M Wooden, choreography by Amy Share-Kissiov. Gabrielle Philiponet was Lalla-Roukh, Pablo Bemsch was Nourreddin, Ben McAteer was Baskir, Niamh O’Sullivan was Mirza, plus Emyr Wyn Jones and Thomas D Hopkinson, and Lorcan Cranitch because the narrator.

David: Lalla-Roukh - Pablo Bemsch - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh – Pablo Bemsch – Wexford Pageant Opera (Picture CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

The opera was sung in Michel Carré and Hippolyte Lucas’ authentic French while the unique dialogue was changed by new narration in rhyming couplets by Timothy Knapman.

The opera has two most important obstacles to trendy efficiency, the amount of spoken dialogue and the Orientalist setting (Lalla-Roukh, the daughter of the Mughal emperor, is travelling to marry the King of Bukhara). The primary was solved by having actor Lorcan Cranitch as narrator. 

David: Lalla-Roukh - Gabrielle Philiponet - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh – Gabrielle Philiponet
Wexford Pageant Opera (Picture CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

Although David had extra proper than most to write down Japanese-inspired music, having travelled to the Center East and Egypt, in fact the music of the opera is pure French lyric comedy, maybe extra Chabrier than Offenbach. In need of a full-scale reconstruction of a French Nineteenth-century staging (which might be fascinating, however virtually actually past the competition’s finances) it’s tough to know methods to strategy Nineteenth century Orientalism in opera immediately. Phelan and Boyd took the imaginative choice to have the whole story conjured by the narrator and set in a extra generic fantasy land.

Throughout the substantial overture we noticed clients assembling at Lalla O’Rourke’s Tea Emporium. A down-and-out (Lorcan Cranitch) appeared, rooted round within the waste bin and located, amongst different issues, a narrative e book. Studying this story, he conjures it into existence, the fantasy characters first rising into the tea store after which the tea store itself disappearing. All was achieved with exceptional financial system, simply Cranitch plus six soloists, the all-singing and all-dancing refrain and 7 dancers.

Crantich would intervene periodically, freezing the motion and filling us in on the story. While the comedian components in his narration had been a bit too distancing and at occasions virtually made enjoyable of the characters, general, the staging efficiently managed the tough act of making a narrated drama that was totally partaking. It helped that the principals had been all strongly drawn.

Gabrielle Philiponet made a feisty Lalla-Roukh. No coloratura canary she, as an alternative we had some beautiful love-lorn arias exhibiting her mellow center registers, a decided sense of getting her personal means (together with wielding a sword for a lot of the night) and a pleasant tendency to say no. In all, Philiponet made a most interesting heroine, and one who appeared remarkably trendy but utterly true to David’s music. And wonderful to have it sung by a local French speaker (the one one within the solid, alas).   

David: Lalla-Roukh - Ben McAteer, Pablo Bemsch - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh – Ben McAteer, Pablo Bemsch
Wexford Pageant Opera (Picture CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

Pablo Bemsch was her love curiosity the minstrel Nourreddin (the truth is her betrothed, the King of Bukhara in disguise). Bemsch created an interesting minstrel, filled with character and never a little bit feisty himself. Musically, Bemsch’s vibrant tenor appears extra suited to the Italian repertoire and while his efficiency was fulfilling, it lacked the best lyric flexibility and fluidity within the higher register that this model of French music calls for.

The 2 lovers had a stunning, and really substantial love scene in the direction of the top of the primary act, a second or two when Philiponet and Bemsch actually did created a way of the air crackling between them.

Because the King of Bukhara’s minister Baskir, Ben McAteer trod the tough line of making a comic book villain. McAteer’s Baskir was delightfully idiotic, pompous and self-regarding, but nonetheless held all of the playing cards. Musically McAteer was a pleasure too, with beautiful comedian timing.

The quartet of main characters was accomplished by Niamh O’Sullivan as Mirza, Lalla-Roukh’s maid. Hers was pleasant comedian efficiency, her seduction of Baskir was achieved with a stunning figuring out air and we reasonably regretted that O’Sullivan had solely the one huge aria. The solid was accomplished by two supernumeraries, Emyr Wyn Jones as Bakbara and Thomas D Hopkinson as Kaboul, who popped up frequently in comedian trend and made a advantageous comedian double act.

Act One felt maybe a trifle lengthy, the plot instructed in too leisurely a fashion, however the digressions had been pleasant together with a ballet (leisure while the corporate dined) and a danced refrain. Amy Share-Kissiov’s full of life choreography even managed to incorporate a witty allusion to conventional Irish dancing.

David: Lalla-Roukh - Emyr Wyn Jones, Thomas D Hopkinson- Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh – Emyr Wyn Jones, Thomas D Hopkinson
Wexford Pageant Opera (Picture CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

The refrain, dressed as all method of legendary and semi-mythical creatures (designer Madeleine Boyd had clearly had nice enjoyable right here), was exhausting working, singing and dancing on stage for a lot of the time and making a vivid backdrop to the motion, every singer clearly having enjoyable creating their explicit character while the choral sound was fulfilling too.

That is subtle music, as I mentioned extra Chabrier than Offenbach, a lyrical comedy with heaps for the orchestra to do. They usually did it with nice model underneath Steven White’s deft route.

Lalla-Roukh will solely ever be an occasional piece, however Orpha Phelan’s manufacturing confirmed that with creativeness and with successful performances, the French orientalist fantasy can work in different contexts.

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