January 3 on The Lyric Stage: lust, murder - and Frederick Delius?
Frederick Delius wrote Margot La Rouge in 1902 to enter into the same one act opera competition won by Cavallaria Rusticana in 1890. The rules said the libretto must be of "the French and Italian type", and even though Delius is said to have hated verismo, he gave it a try, choosing what his friend and champion Eric Fenby disdained as a "sordid affair" to set to music.
And it is sordid. Margot la Rouge hangs out in a shabby, atmospheric Parisian bar. On a stormy night Thibault, an old boyfriend from her home town, enters and recognizes her. He calls her Marguerite, the name he knows her by. One thing leads to another, and they prepare to leave together. But her new boyfriend, known only as 'The Artist", enters, and creates a scene. He tries to stab Margot, but Thibault jumps in front of her and is stabbed instead. Margo then stabs the Artist, and gets arrested. Yes, the composer of "The Walk to the Paradise Garden" and "On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring" actually wrote an opera that ends with a bar room brawl, two stabbings and an arrest.
It did not win the contest, and the original orchestral version was long thought lost. The BBC radio version first broadcast in 1981 we have this week is an orchestration by Eric Fenby of Maurice Ravel's piano arrangement of the music.
Soprano Lois McDonall sings Margot, tenor Kenneth Woollam the old boyfriend from Margot's home town, and baritone Malcolm Donnelly as her new lover the artist, and a large supporting cast with the BBC singers and Concert Orcheatra conducted by Norman del Mar.
Years later Delius drew from the music of Margot la Rouge for a much more Delius type of piece, the "Idyll for Soprano and Baritone." Janice Watson and Alan Opie will perform that following the opera.