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April Opera Deep-Cut: Roussel's "Padmâvatî"

Unknown 18th-Century Painting of Princess Padmavati
Wikimedia Commons
Unknown 18th-Century Painting of Princess Padmavati

For the month of April, Sunday Night at the Opera dives into some gems from the back of the music library.  This week, join Chris Voss for an old Hindi tale retold: Marilyn Horne and Nicolai Gedda star in Roussel's 1923 Padmâvatî!

Albert Roussel: Padmâvatî

Padmâvatî: Marilyn Horne
Ratan-Sen: Nicolai Gedda
Alaouddin: José van Dam
Nakamti: Jane Berbié
The Brahman: Charles Burles
Gora: Marc Vento
Badal: Laurence Dale

Toulouse Capitol Orchestra / Orféon Donostiarra
Michel Plasson, conductor

Read a full synopsis.

Albert Roussel belonged to a long history of French artists and composers fascinated by non-Western cultures. Works like Ravel's Shéhérazade, Camille Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila, and Monet's "La Japonaise" are illustrative of a culture obsessed, particularly at the end of the 19th century, with "the other." And, perhaps unsurprisingly, this obsession did not always strive for authenticity as much as it did an aesthetic, frequently trading more in assumptions and stereotypes than not.* Roussel's Padmâvatî differs slightly from this in that it strives much more than others to be authentic in its presentation.

The Padmavat is a medieval Hindi poem written c. 1540 by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The story centers around Rani Padmavati, a legendary beauty. When the Mogul sultan Alauddin demands Padmavati in exchange for peace between his army and her husband's, Padmavati decides she'd rather die with her husband, atop his funeral pyre, than submit to Alauddin. 

Roussel first learned about the Padmavat while visiting the ruins of the Chittor castle - said to be where the battle between Alauddin and Padmavati's husband, Ratan-sen, took place - and set about composing an opera based on the story soon after his trip. Padmâvatî premiered in 1923, with dark, post-modern music that puts great emphasis on big chorus and orchestral numbers (very French), but also cleverly weaves in Indian musical styles and rhythms.  

Read more about the historical contextof the opera.


RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: "The Vagabond" from Songs of Travel
    Bryn Terfel, baritone / Malcolm Martineau, piano
Album: Bryn Terfel "The Vagabond - English Songs by Vaughn Williams, Butterworth, etc.

1) Guadete in Domino
2) Amen, amen dico vobis
3) Peccavi super numerum
     Stile Antico
Album: Giaches de Wert: Divine Theater - Sacred Motets / Stile Antico

JOSEPH HAYDN: Ariana a Naxos, Hob.XXVIb:2 (orchestral version)
     Arleen Auger, soprano
     Handel and Haydn Society
     Christopher Hogwood, conductor
Album: Haydn: Arias & Cantatas / Arleen Auger

GERALD FINZI: Let us Garlands Bring, Op. 18 (text by William Shakespeare)
1) Come away, come away death
2) Who is Silvia?
3) Fear no more the heat o' the sun
4) O Mistress mine
5) It was a lover and his lass
     Bryn Terfel, baritone / Malcolm Martineau, piano
Album: Bryn Terfel "The Vagabond - English Songs by Vaughn Williams, Butterworth, etc.

*Jazz and African-American music/culture, which exploded in popularity in France in the 1920's, also belongs to this history. Many African-American soldiers, having spent time in France during WWI, decided to stay in France, preferring the comparative tolerance and openness of France to the horrors of the Jim Crow U.S. That said, it can't be understated that jazz culture (and artists like Josephine Baker) became as popular as they did because at its core, France in the 1920's had a fascination with "otherness" rather than a dedication to openness for the sake of equality.  

Chris Voss is the Weekday Afternoon Host and a Producer for CRB.