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HomeOperaOrpha Phelan's imaginative new manufacturing of Félicien David's Lalla-Roukh at Wexford Competition

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


David: Lalla-Roukh - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)
David: Lalla-Roukh – Wexford Competition Opera (Photograph CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)


Félicien David: Lalla-Roukh; Gabrielle Philiponet, Pablo Bemsch, Ben McAteer, Niamh O’Sullivan, director: Orpha Phelan, conductor Steven White; Wexford Competition 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 Competition Opera staged Félicien David’s 1859 opera Herculaneum in 2016; the composer’s solely absolutely sung grand opera; his different 4 stage works have been all written as opera comique with spoken dialogue.  As a part of the 2022 Magic and Music season, Wexford Competition Opera staged Félicien David’s Lalla-Roukh, written in 1862 for the Opéra Comique however having an area connection because the libretto is predicated 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 performed, designs have 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 Competition Opera (Photograph 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 fundamental obstacles to fashionable 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 Competition Opera (Photograph CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

Although David had extra proper than most to put in writing 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 nearly definitely past the pageant’s price range) it’s troublesome to know how one can method Nineteenth century Orientalism in opera as we speak. Phelan and Boyd took the imaginative resolution to have the complete story conjured by the narrator and set in a extra generic fantasy land.

Through 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 carried out with outstanding economic 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 have been a bit too distancing and at occasions nearly made enjoyable of the characters, general, the staging efficiently managed the tough act of making a narrated drama that was absolutely partaking. It helped that the principals have been all strongly drawn.

Gabrielle Philiponet made a feisty Lalla-Roukh. No coloratura canary she, as a substitute we had some pretty love-lorn arias displaying her mellow center registers, a decided sense of getting her personal method (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 fashionable but fully 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 Competition Opera (Photograph CLIVE BARDA ArenaPAL)

Pablo Bemsch was her love curiosity the minstrel Nourreddin (actually her betrothed, the King of Bukhara in disguise). Bemsch created an interesting minstrel, filled with character and never slightly 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 type of French music calls for.

The 2 lovers had a beautiful, and really substantial love scene in the direction of the tip 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 pretty 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 carried out with a beautiful understanding air and we somewhat 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 recurrently in comedian vogue and made a tremendous comedian double act.

Act One felt maybe a trifle lengthy, the plot instructed in too leisurely a fashion, however the digressions have been pleasant together with a ballet (leisure while the corporate dined) and a danced refrain. Amy Share-Kissiov’s energetic 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 Competition Opera (Photograph 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 refined music, as I mentioned extra Chabrier than Offenbach, a lyrical comedy with tons for the orchestra to do. And so they did it with nice type underneath Steven White’s deft path.

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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