It’s perhaps surprising that Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys isn’t performed much more often than it is. Most people probably only know it for the tenor aria Vainement, ma bien-aimée which crops up from time to time in recitals and competitions. Sure, it’s not strikingly original. The plot is a love triangle with overlays of revenge and divine retribution and the music is, with the exception of the rather fine overture, a bit on the rumpty tumpty side. But, let’s face it, there are plenty of standard repertoire works with implausible romantic plots and banal, if tuneful, music. I think there’s a large section of the opera audience that would very much enjoy this piece.
The plot concerns the king of Ys, a city in Cornwall or Brittany (or the bit between them that isn’t there anymore). He’s just lost a war with prince Karnac so is marrying off his eldest, Margared, in the approved manner. Unfortunately she’s in love with Mylio (presumed dead) who is in love with and loved by Margared’s sister Rozenn. Mylio turns up just as the wedding is about to be celebrated and Margared backs out triggering another war. The king promises Mylio Rozenn if he beats Karnac, which he does. Margared is furious and teams up with Karnac to open the flood gates that protect Ys. Despite the intervention of St. Corentin, disaster looms. Margared repents and throws herself into the sea. Disaster is averted. Really.
To be fair to the Opéra Royal de Wallonie they treat the piece seriously and make the most of it. Director Jean-Louis Pichon creates a rather striking aesthetic with the inhabitants of Ys in sort of Victorian Breton camo contrasting with the vivid scarlet of Karnac’s gang. The set evokes the Cornish/Breton landscape rather well and the final scene is very watery. He also gets good acting performances out of the cast. The star is clearly the rather fetching soprano Giuseppina Piunti who sings Margared, originally a mezzo role. her voice is dark enough for this to work quite well (she seems to make a specialty of ambiguous soprano/mezzo space). She’s well supported by Guylaine Girard as Rozenn and Werner van Mechelen as Karnac (great name for a villain). The only slightly weak link is tenor Sébastian Guèze as Mylio who seems a little overtaxed and is definitely struggling by the end. The Walloon orchestra and chorus are very good, especially the principals who play the various solo instrumental parts that crop up several times. Conductor Patrick Davin shows himself a convincing advocate for the piece.
The video direction by Matteo Richetti is rather good and presents the stage action well. The picture is decent modern DVD quality and both Dolby 5.1 and LPCM stereo soundtracks are pretty good. There are no extras. The booklet contains a track listing (no timings), an essay and a synopsis in four languages. Subtitle options are English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.