Promoting Historically-Inspired Performances of Early Music and Baroque Opera
Le Roi de le fermier (1762) by Monsigny & Sedaine - New York Performance by Opera Lafayette
Reviewed by John Wall
Le Roi et le fermier
Colin K. Bills, lighting designer
Thomas Michael Allen, Le Roi
Three years after Opera Lafayette's groundbreaking production of Le Déserteur (review), they have followed a different approach in staging the second opéra-comique by Monsigny and Sedaine, Le Roi et le fermier. In the current production, the spoken recitative was delivered in French, with English surtitles in the American performances. The two actors, stage director Didier Rousselet and choreographer Monica Neagoy, assumed different roles throughout the opera. At times they narrated, and at other times they mimed roles of the singers, seamlessly delivering most of the spoken texts.
The Versailles performances will use the original sets from performances by Marie-Antoinette in the 1780s. In New York, photos of the French sets were projected onto the stage. All personnel were dressed in fine, historically-informed costumes, and there were sufficient props to identify the places of the scenes.
The libretto, based on an English play, mixes comedy with mild social commentary. The King, the only purely serious character in the opera, wanders into a village after losing his way returning from a hunt. He identifies himself as a member of the King's hunting party, and is welcomed and entertained by the people. He learns that a court parasite, Lord Lurewel, has been preying on the people who have befriended him, and at the end banishes Lurewel and makes the peasant Richard a nobleman.
Except for the absence of accompagnato, there is greater musical variety than in Le Déserteur. Perhaps it became more acceptable for opéra-comique to include accompagnato between the time of Le Roi et le fermier (1762) and the time of Le Déserteur (1769). There are heroic, gallant da capo arias accompanied by horns, comic arias with a pair of bassoons, comic duos and trios, a storm sinfonia with wind machine, and a French musette. As in intermezzos, the plot is advanced in the arias.
The performance was thoroughly entertaining throughout, with some historically appropriate overacting, especially by the Lurewel and the Courtier, depicted as 18th Century Versailles dandies with face paint and rouge. Jenny's role is the largest musically, performed admirably by Dominique Labelle. Marie-Antoinette must have been an accomplished singer to have undertaken the part. It would be nice to have this on DVD.