Le Roi d’Ys in Amsterdam

Le Roi d’Ys

Opera in 3 acts by Édouard Lalo. Libretto by Édouard Blau. First performed: Opéra Comique, 1888. Concert performance: NTR ZaterdagMatinee, Feb. 3, 2024.

Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra; Hungarian National Choir; György Vashegyi conductor; Nicolas Courjal bass (Le roi d’Ys); Isabelle Druet mezzo-soprano (Margared); Judith van Wanroij soprano (Rozenn); Christian Helmer baritone (Prince Karnac); Cyrille Dubois tenor (Mylio); Zsombor Cserményi baritone (Saint Corentin/Jahel)

Le Roi d’Ys. Introduction.

Catastrophes and impending catastrophes. They are part of human existence. World wars, plagues, nuclear disasters…. A disaster we Dutch are familiar with from our national past, a disaster that will soon be upon us again: the devastating flood. Responsible: Man. Read Isa. 47:11 “Therefore evil shall come upon you, and you shall not know the dawn of it; and destruction shall come upon you, and you shall not be able to atone for it; for sudden destruction shall come upon you, and you shall not know it.” The stubborn, self-destructive and short-sighted man who can also be blamed for the no less disastrous phenomenon of the “breakfast buffet”.

Le Roi d'Ys
Le Roi d'Ys. 3 februari 2024. NRT ZaterdagMatinee. ©Milagro Elstak.

Le Roi d’Ys

Margared, daughter of the King of Ys, is engaged to her former enemy Karnac. However, Margared is (secretly) in love with Mylio, but he has maneuvered himself out of the picture, as she tells her sister Rozenn. You will probably understand that Rozenn loves Mylio as well. The affection is mutual! When Margared is about to marry Karnac, she learns that Mylio has returned. During the wedding ceremony, the famous “If anyone objects to the marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace” sounds. “I object!” Margared cries. And this is not without consequences. Karnac is offended and curses the kingdom of Ys.
Margared is jealous when she hears that her father has promised Rozenn to Mylio when he returns victorious from a battle with Karnac. A Pyrrhic victory, because – and here it comes – Margared plots with her defeated ex-fiancé to have the city of Ys swallowed by the sea. The city is saved only by Margared’s self-sacrifice, when she throws herself, like Senta, into the sea, and the sea is calmed by the intervention of Saint Corentin.

Le Roi d'Ys
Hongaars Nationaal Koor. ©Milagro Elstak

Grand opéra

Lalo is best known for his Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra, but he did write operas as well. He worked on Le roi d’Ys for about ten years (immer mit der Ruhe) and in 1888 it was premiered in Paris. Lalo intended the role of Margared for his wife, who apparently didn’t mind waiting 10 years. No ejaculatio praecox in the Lalo household!

Lalo’s music in Le Roi d’Ys is, in our opinion, more interesting than the law-abiding Symphonie espagnole. Deliciously chromatic, with a pinch of Wagner (Lohengrin). The (potpourri) overture lasts more than 10 minutes and is very programmatic (battles, the wild ocean, etc.) and this overture in turn is full of, sometimes shamelessly almost literal, quotes from Tannhäuser, on a bed of Bruckner. But, nevertheless: un véritable Grand opéra français. In addition to praise, the work received much criticism, for critics said it was “bleak and cheesy,” “with flat characters,” and “a dragging narrative.” Indeed the recitatives and psalmodies at the beginning of the opera do not make the hormones excessively fly through the body, but we could still find satisfaction in the harmonies and especially the surprising rhythms. The road to ultimate musical bliss in Lalo’s opera is paved with delightful syncopations, emphatic in the overture, but also in the rest of the work. A little Carl Maria von Weber with a sports suspension.

Le Roi d'Ys
Le roi d’Ys. 02-03-2024. ©Milagro Elstak.jpg

The Highlights

This overture alone is one of the highlights of Le Roi de l’Ys. Of course, an aria like “Vainement ma bien aimée” (3rd act) is also worth listening to. Below it is interpreted by Giuseppe Di Stefano. By the way, “Vainement ma bien aimée” is still regularly performed at recitals, often as an encore.

The plot of Le Roi d’Ys is quite elementary, the conflict sometimes has very prosaic dimensions and represents miraculous events, such as the appearance of Saint Corentin.


In Lalo’s colorful score there are all sorts of subtleties. After the opening chorus, Margared and Rozenn leave the palace together, and their duet perfectly illustrates their certainly not congruent thoughts. Friendly and resourceful, Rozenn asks her sister many questions. At the end of her first sentence, “Et cette main frissonne” (“And this hand is trembling”), there is a very brief musical interruption, unfortunately not emphasized by conductor György Vashegyi: Rozenn takes the time to take her sister’s hand and feel it tremble. Margared promptly replies, “Rozenn! Que dis tu donc? Non, mon cœur est joyeux.” (“No problema, everything a okay.”) Another example: In the second act, Margared is alone, listening to the fanfares in the distance. A beautiful, contemplative scene, with melting copper tones. And another interesting detail: after the trumpets have fallen silent, there are two calls from the orchestra, from the oboes and the flutes. Melancholy assured. Then follows another aria by Margared, again with those delightful syncopations in the accompaniment.
Days go by when we are not served these delights.

Giuseppina Piunti, Guylaine Girard, Eric Martin-Bonnet, Sébastien Guéze, Werner van Mechelen e.a. Orkest en koor van de Opéra Royal de Wallonie olv Patrick Davin.

The comfort of no direction

But we digress a bit. We were offered the unique opportunity to attend a rather unknown opera without a director. A godsend for opera lovers, regularly offered by the unsurpassed NTR ZaterdagMatinee. However, since our last visit was some time ago, we missed the mastermind behind the ZaterdagMatinee, Kees Vlaardingerbroek, at least at his usual place in the front row balcony. As if we were on a great school trip, but our favorite teacher was not there. A petit bémol, in other words. Not so petty, however, as the lowest of the low press mosquitoes and other misfits engaged in personal attacks at Vlaardingerbroek with the weapon of the deplorables: the knife in the back.

We have to speak about the music, about the soloists, and as far as the NTR ZaterdagMatinee is concerned, we traditionally do so with great pleasure. Still, a word about the very readable, expertly written introduction in the program is in order. Compare that with the woke bla-bla of the National Dutch Opera.

The splendor of the soloists

We begin, of course, with our national contribution to this opera, namely that of Judith van Wanroij, who has a unique timbre and has rightly achieved world fame, not only in numerous operas, but also in small (baroque) ensembles. Her interpretation of the role of Rozenn was particularly good. Her aria from the first act, “Par une chaîne trop forte”, introduced by “Vainement j’ai parlé de l’absence”, flooded the large hall of the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw with heartfelt warmth.

In the title role, Nicolas Courjal impressively conveyed the fatherly authority of Le Roi d’Ys with his full, deep bass voice. His volume could have been a bit more restrained though. Nevertheless, Courjal brought beautiful lyrical touches where Le Roi, under the mask of a monarch’s severity, shows his affection because he strongly believes in his daughter’s innocence.

Now we come to Isabelle Druet as Margared. Isabelle Druet? An image from my favorite opera, The Magic Flute, appears on the edge of our long-term memory. Yes, indeed! In 2012, the Zauberflötitis was still in its incubation phase. 2012, Concertgebouw, René Jacobs and the Third Lady…. Isabelle Druet. Isabelle Druet performed her role of Margared with moderate dramatic intensity, but she also had moments of vocal beauty.

Christian Helmer (Prince Karnac) sang with a smooth, sonorous bass-baritone voice, while the brilliant French tenor Cyrille Dubois (Mylio) framed his fiery reading with smooth high notes.

Le Roi d'Ys
Le roi d'Ys. György Vashegyi, dirigent. 2024-03-02. ©Milagro Elstak.

The intermission was between the first and second scenes of the second act. To the simple mind, the timing of the intermission is not immediately clear, since the second scene (with “Te Dominum confitemur”) is not that long. Perhaps the organ or the organist had to warm up for a while. The famous Maarschalkerweerd organ of the Concertgebouw made an overwhelming impression. And yes, we also heard Saint-Saëns III passing by.


The soloists, the fine 45-member Hungarian National Choir, which sounds like a 100-member choir, and the superb Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by György Vashegyi treated us to a gem on February 3: a little-known, colorfully orchestrated French Grand Opera that is definitely worth seeing.

HERE, you can watch Le Roi d’Ys in its entirety with the same performers at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest on January 11, 2024.

Olivier Keegel

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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor 2019-2024. Now reviewer. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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