Ryan Brown, conductor
Marianne Fiset,* Lalla Roukh
Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Noureddin
Nathalie Paulin, Mirza
Bernard Deletré, Baskir
David Newman, Bakbara
Andrew Adelsberger, Kaboul
Performance Note from the Artistic Director
In deciding how to present a modern premiere of Félicien David’s Lalla Roukh several considerations immediately came to the fore. How to combine the exotic, sentimental, comic, and spectacular elements of this 19th century French opéra-comique? What place would historical performance practice have in our approach to an opera from the 19th century, and what role would contemporary cultural knowledge play in the production?
The image we first chose to represent the program, de la Boulaye’s L’Orientale, suggests that the 19th century had a colorful but generalized romantic view of the East. Thomas Moore’s poem, on which our story is based, is more precise, at least in its setting—the road from Delhi to Samarkand in the late Mughal period of India’s history. David’s musical response to the story is extraordinarily evocative, but his travels were to the Near East and his musical devices suggesting the East derived from this experience, without research into more specifically Indian musical traditions.
Though our approach to this premiere is also broadly evocative, we have chosen to include elements of Indian culture which were not available to David and which are not part of historical operatic tradition. We have been fortunate to be able to work with Anuradha Nehru and Kalanidhi Dance, a troupe trained in the Kuchipudi style, both to choreograph the work’s dance entertainments and to provide additional dancers as Lalla Roukh’s attendants. Our costume designer is Poonam Bhagat, a fashion designer in New Delhi, whose work has been inspired by textiles from Samarkand. We have even decided to incorporate an opportunity for our audience to see Indian dance set to Indian music into this premiere, adding a scene inspired by Thomas Moore’s poem to the opening of the opera. With these elements in place, we engaged Bernard Deletré, a French director who is also a brilliant comédien, and asked him to pare this opéra-comique’s dialogue down to its essential story elements for an audience for whom French is not a first language. In the pit, we expanded our orchestra to include wind and brass players with experience performing mid- to late 19th-century instruments.
In combining these multiple historical and cultural approaches, we have also come to adopt a second visual image to illustrate our performance, one which was graciously made available to us by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Painted by an anonymous Indian artist,
A Bejeweled Maiden with a Parakeet (ca 1670-1700) is thought to be a representation of a daughter of one of the last Mughal emperors in India, just as is our title character in Lalla Roukh.
At the end of Act I of Lalla Roukh, David creates a brilliant effect by overlaying Mirza’s melody, sung offstage, with different and new music for the inebriated guards in front of Lalla Roukh’s tent. Somewhat similarly, we hope that the different cultural points of view we have combined in our premiere will also work in harmony with each other, and that our production will give new life to an opera which had an extraordinarily broad appeal in the late 19th century.
-- Ryan Brown