Opera Scotland

Roi Arthus Le Roi Arthus; King Arthur

Music

Ernest Chausson (born Paris, 20 January 1855; died Limay, Nantes, 10 June 1899)

Text

The composer.

Source

Various sources of the Arthurian legend.

 

Premières

First performance: Brussels (Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie), 30 November 1903.

First UK performance: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 22 August 2000 (concert).

First performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Chausson is sometimes seen as an amateur composer, although he studied with Massenet and Franck - he inherited a large fortune from his family’s commercial activities – and much of his music remained unperformed in his lifetime, which was cut short by a bicycling accident. He was a cultivated man, widely read, and interested in all branches of the arts. Le Roi Arthus is the only one of his three operas to be played, and even that was premiered posthumously. His best-known composition is the Poème for violin and orchestra, and he produced a number of excellent songs. His music is attractive, highly melodious and beautifully orchestrated. The plot of Le Roi Arthus has obvious similarities to Tristan, which Chausson adored, but the music only sounds Wagnerian occasionally. He wrote the libretto in 1885-6, composed the music in 1887-8, and continued to work on the orchestration until the end of 1894.

 

Main Characters

Arthus, King Arthur (baritone)

Genièvre, his wife (soprano)

Lancelot, a knight (tenor)

Mordred, a knight (baritone)

Lyonnel, Lancelot’s squire (tenor)

Allan, Guinevere’s servant (bass)

Merlin, a wizard (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

King Arthur, in his castle at Caerleon, celebrates his victory over the Saxons and he and Guinevere both praise Lancelot. Mordred is jealous of Lancelot’s position in the king’s favour. He keeps watch and finds Guinevere and Lancelot together, and is wounded by Lancelot, who then flees on Guinevere’s instructions, thinking Mordred to be dead. However he was only unconscious, and on his recovery Mordred informs Arthur, who is not convinced, but summons Lancelot back to court. Lancelot is unwilling to lie to his king, so he and Guinevere leave the court. Arthur consults Merlin, who predicts the downfall of his kingdom. Arthur realises he must fight Lancelot. In his absence, Mordred seizes the throne. Arthur is victorious against Lancelot, and Guinevere commits suicide (strangling herself with her own hair). Lancelot begs Arthur to kill him, but the king is now beyond earthly worries, and forgives him. Voices summon the king to leave his worldly cares behind, and a chariot draws him away to the afterlife.

The Cast

Allan
 Guinevere's servant
Arthus
 King Arthur
Genièvre
 Guinevere, Arthur's queen
Lancelot
 a knight
Lyonnel
 Lancelot's squire
Merlin
 a wizard
Mordred
 a knight

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