Le Roi Malgré Lui, Emmanuel Chabrier's 1887 opera, is a curious work; admired for its creative orchestration by Ravel, Stravinsky, and others, it has nonetheless remained infrequently performed. Its somewhat convoluted comic plot is very loosely based on the sixteenth-century election of Henri de Valois as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In Chabrier's hands, this becomes a whimsical tale of a young man who would definitely not like to be king, preferring the life (and loves) of a soldier-prince. To this end he joins the elite conspiracy against himself, which is led by his bitter ex-lover Alexina, who is married to his chamberlain. To a doggerel libretto which Chabrier himself wryly likened to a stew, disguises, romantic duets, and mistaken identities ensue, creating a degree of confusion exceptional even for comic opera. All ends with a rousing chorus, of course (it is indicative of the opera's tone that dire warnings are interrupted by lovers' vows, and the actual plotting is overshadowed by a waltz.) The French and the Poles indulge in gleeful mutual stereotyping, with jokes at the expense of each and music to match, e.g. the Fête polonaise. There's even a romance between the king's best friend (Nangis, the tenor) and a local girl (Minka, who sings gypsy songs about love.) On paper, it's all rather charming; in practice it is considerably more than that.
|Opening of Act III (ensemble). Photo (c) Cory Weaver|
|Paulin and Bonner. Photo (c) Cory Weaver|
Curtain call photos:
|Cast & conductor (l-r: Fritelli, Alexina, Henri, Botstein, Minka, Nangis, Basile)|
|Production team, vigorously cheered|