Edouard Lalo – Le Roi d’Ys
(b. Lille, 27 January 1823 — d. Paris, 22 April 1892)
Opéra en trois actes et cinq tableaux (1878-81/86)
Ouverture p. 1
Acte I p. 53
Acte II Premier tableau p. 180
Deuxième tableau p. 250
Acte III Premier tableau p. 291
Deuxième tableau p. 382
Edouard Lalo composed at least two works that have entered the international concert repertoire and made his name unforgettable: the Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra, op. 21, written in 1874 for Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), and the D-minor Cello Concerto of 1877. His three piano trios also crop up in recitals from time to time, whereas the Violin Sonata, op. 12 (1863), the Cello Sonata (1856), and the String Quartet in E-flat major, op. 19 (1859, rev. as op. 45 in 1880) are virtually unknown. Lalo left behind a broad and still untapped body of music, particularly for the violin. In France, his fame largely rests on his great three-act opera Le Roi d’Ys (1875-88) and the ballet music Namouna (1881-2), premièred in Paris on 6 March 1882 and idolized by Debussy. A suite drawn from the latter is occasionally heard today. Other important orchestral works include his Divertissement of 1872, the Violin Concerto in F major, op. 20, of 1873 (this was the first concerto he composed for Sarasate), the Fantaisie norvégienne for violin and orchestra (1878) along with the Rapsodie norvégienne drawn from it in 1879 (also known as Rapsodie pour orchestre), the Concerto russe for violin and orchestra, op. 29, the Symphony in G minor of 1886 (Lalo himself later destroyed two juvenile symphonies), and the Piano Concerto in F minor (1888-9).
A distinguished violinist, Lalo devoted himself primarily to chamber music after leaving the Paris Conservatoire. At that time there was no audience for chamber music in France. In 1855 he became a founding member of the Armingaud Quartet, first playing the viola and later the second violin alongside the first violinist Jules Armingaud (1820-1900). On 5 July 1865 he married his pupil Victoire Besnier de Maligny. His first opera, Fiesque, was written in 1866-8 in three acts on a libretto by Charles Beauquier based on Friedrich Schiller’s Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua (“The Conspiracy of Fiesco in Genova”). He then submitted it to an opera competition funded by the French government and organized by the directors of the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. Of the forty-three contestants, Lalo received the third prize; the first went to Jules Philippot for his one-act Magnifique and the second to Gustave Canoby for Coupe et les lèvres. The latter two operas were both performed as promised, but the theater rejected Fiesque on the grounds that the libretto was unusable. Lalo’s further efforts to have the work mounted in Paris, Hamburg, and Brussels came to nought, and it remains unperformed to the present day — an almost incredible state of affairs considering the huge success of Le Roi d’Ys which is still played today.
Translation: Bradford Robinson, 2003.
Lalo composed Le Roi d’Ys between 1875 and 1878 to a libretto by Edouard Blau, the nom de plume of Stanislas Viateur. The libretto recounts the Breton legend of the King of Ys, but also betrays an orientation toward Wagner’s Lohengrin. (The family of Lalo’s wife was also of Breton origin.) The overture to Le Roi d’Ys — even today the best-known part of the work the world over; it has appeared several times in study score editions — and a few excerpts from the opera received concert performances in the following years, but otherwise its fate seemed to be the same that befell Fiesque. In 1878 it was rejected by the Théâtre Lyrique; in 1879, by the Opéra de Paris as well. Lalo undertook a revision of the work in 1886. It was finally premiered by the Opéra-Comique in the Salle du Châtelet, Paris, on 7 May 1888. The lead roles were sung by Max Bouvet, Blanche Deschamps-Jehin, René Fournets, and Jean-Alexandre Talazac; Jules Danbé (1840-1905) conducted. It was one of the first works to be performed in the reconstructed Salle du Châtelet, which had burned down the previous year, and the rehearsals went off with difficulty. All the greater was the success of the premiere — Paul Dukas would write rapturously about it many years later, in a 1923 article honoring Lalo’s hundredth birthday — and it took little more than a year for Le Roi d’Ys to attain its hundredth performance. The libretto was soon translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Czech, Russian, and Romanian. The first performance in England, which was sung in French, took place at Covent Garden in London on 17 July 1901; the American premiere took place in New York City in 1922.
After Le Roi d’Ys Lalo completed one more stage work, the pantomime Néron, in 1891; it consisted to a large degree of music taken from Fiesque. The same is true of his last opera, La Jacquerie, about the French Peasants’ Revolt of 1358, but Lalo was able to complete only its first act. La Jacquerie was completed by Arthur Coquard (1846-1910), a pupil of César Franck’s, and first performed in Monte Carlo in 1895.
Ys is a mythical city on the coast of Brittany. The King of Ys (bass) succeeds in ending a lengthy and bitter war by promising the hand of his daughter Margared (mezzo-soprano) in marriage to Karnac (baritone), the leader of his enemies. Margared is alarmed by this and confesses to her sister Rozenn (soprano) that she loves another man. They do not know that they both love the same man: the hero Mylio (tenor), who was thought to have been lost at sea, and who now returns unexpectedly and seeks out his beloved Rozenn. When the King brings his daughter Margared to Karnac as arranged, her glance falls upon Mylio, and she rejects the marriage. Karnac throws down the gauntlet. Mylio is confident of victory.
Margared is quickly seized by jealousy of her happy sister and her requited love of Mylio, and she begins to hate both of them. Mylio’s troops rout Karnac’s on the battlefield. Margared meets the defeated enemy and incites him to open the floodgates protecting the city of Ys, thus abandoning her people to the sea. All of a sudden they hear the warning voice of the patron Saint Corentin (bass-baritone), who solemnly beseeches her to renounce her request. But in her delusion she mocks the saint’s statue and reveals to Karnac everything he needs to know in order to accomplish the plan of annihilation.
The wedding of Mylio and Rozenn has begun. Suddenly Margared attempts to dissuade Karnac from the execution of the devilish plan, but it is too late. The flood approaches; half of the city’s population drowns, and the other half crowds together upon the highest hill in the city. Margared appears and confesses her guilt. The crowd demands her execution. With a plea to the Almighty she casts herself into the sea. The crowd falls to its knees, awed by her death. The patron saint appears, accepting her sacrifice as atonement and allowing the water to return to its normal level.
Translation: Stephen Luttmann, 2004.
For performance materials please contact the publisher Heugel, Paris (www.alphonseleduc.com).