Adolphe Adam: Si j’étais roi (1852)

Opera Comique en trois actes. Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes.

Perhaps I should have reviewed Le Chalet or Le Postillion de Longjumeau first, but there is just something about this lavish spectacle which intrigues me. By some critics, it is considered to be the finest score Adam ever wrote. This being my first Adam review, I can not call it as such due to a lack of experience. Although I know Giselle and have heard Longjumeau before, that was around a decade ago, and it is impossible for me to judge this work on anything other than its own merits. Certainly it will be better than La poupee de Nuremberg, non?

SETTING: Goa, India, circa 1500. Based on a tale from The Arabian Nights with its setting changed to India, the fisherman Zephoris (tenor) had months earlier saved a mysterious young woman who turns out to be Nemea (soprano) the daughter of King Moussol (baritone) of Goa, but his minister, Prince Kadoor (bass) is determined to have her and the kingdom for himself, and it is discovered that he is conspiring with the Portuguese to take Goa by military means. But first, Zephoris is tricked by Moussol into thinking that he is king.


ACT 1: A beach near Goa. (45 minutes)

0: The overture *** is exemplar of its genre and well known among musical critics as well constructed, the final gallop in particular is irresistible and is enough to ensue a certain immortality to the score. It hasn’t a bar betraying its Indian setting, but nevertheless, with its simplicity and compactness, displays an appropriately imperial grandeur all its own. It starts off quietly, much of it just a harp accompaniment, until a dancing almost march tune pops in rather joyously, then a brief bit of menace (which returns in an expanded form in the gallop, itself representing the salvation of Goa from the Portuguese invasion occurring in act three) is followed by another variant on the dancing march tune (now with chimes and woodwinds) leading into that brilliant final gallop.

9: Zéphoris est bon camarade The bouncy, if a little starchy, opening chorus telling the fishermen to leave the shore is followed by the arrival of Pifear (the second tenor role), another fisherman searching for Zephoris. His couplet, in two stanzas, is about how Zephoris is a good friend but a poor fisherman ** and at first seems like a simplistic piece but it grows into a duet with Zizel (bass, another fisherman) in which there are traces of the overture, then a trio with Zelide (soprano, sister of Zephoris). Everyone is looking for her brother.

13: N’implore pas Zéphoris finally arrives and there is a brief but rather brilliant quartet **, followed by a reprise of the opening chorus (here represented by the orchestra).

16: J’ignore son nom Zephoris dispairs of his love for the girl he rescued from drowning while she attempted to recover a ring which had fallen into the water, who turns out to be the local princess, in a touching double couplet ** which, for a French composition, has a distinctly, and seductive, Italianate tenor lilt to it. He knows that he is too poor for her, but he can dream can’t he? He recognizes her as Princess Nemea as the King passes by with his retinue, Prince Kadoor swears Zephoris to silence, wanting to marry the princess himself as she has sworn to marry the man who saved her, even though she doesn’t like Kadoor at all. The dialogue goes on a little too long, and there should be a cavatina for Nemea here: Du tendre oiseau la mélodie, which is considered to be one of the highlights of the score. For some reason it has been cut.

26: O surprise inouïe! After the revelation (false it turns out) that Kadoor rescued Nemea, a little trio * with a simplistic melody. Although Kadoor is excited, Nemea declares that although she will give him her hand in marriage, she will hold her heart for herself. The coloratura, and the traces of the overture, save the number from its own low temperature points (particularly the cavatina for King Moussol). Kadoor bullies Zephoris into vowing to leave the village.

36: Un regard de ses yeux Zéphoris gives the opera its raison d’être, wishing he could be a king and marry Nemea in yet another brilliant cavatina **. He falls asleep after writing the title into the sand.

40: Prenons le sentier des Bambous The act finale *: Nemea and the King run into the sleeping Zephoris and see the message in the sand. This gives the King the idea to play a Sly on Zephoris and have him think he is king for a day. A very sleepy number, which is appropriate.

ACT 2: The throne room of the palace. (34 minutes)

0: The entr’acte ** consists of a thunderous reprise of music from the overture. The chimes and flutes continue their Indoiserie (is that even a word?) into the act as the King gives his instructions to have Zephoris totally convinced that he is king.

3: O roi! ton peuple qui t’adore A chorus of maidens approaches “King” Zephoris *** which turns into a brilliant tenor coloratura piece.

6: On ne peut pas manger The King convinces Zephoris that he has been ill for ten years and thinks he is a fisherman resulting in a rather brilliant comic duet for tenor and baritone ** taking some of the more majestic elements from the overture and reframing them comedically. Zephoris passes a series of laws to help the fishermen.

10: Des souverains des rivages d’Asie The heart of the act is an extended aria-romance for Nemea as she entertains her “cousin” the “king” *** including a sung waltz.

18: Vous m’aimez, dites-vous? After a long scene of political intriguing with the men, Zephoris is finally able to be alone with Nemea and declares his love for her in a lovely duet *** with a melody which, at least to me, seemed strangely familiar.

25: Accourez à ma voix The climax of the opera is the second act concentrate finale *** in which Zephoris demonstrates that he is a tenor capable of many vocal achievements, even as the King tries to separate him from Nemea, as they have just declared their engagement. The chorus gets explosive.

28: La fleur boit la rosée The King gets a couplet **, although it appears that the second verse is cut. Zephoris ends up drinking a cup which has been drugged.

30: Venez, brahmes sacrés As Zephoris is about to bless his union with Nemea (calling upon Brahma) something distinct happens ***: the music takes on a tone similar to the triangle theme from Les pêcheurs de perles, the chorus is even more obviously similar. Zephoris eventually falls asleep from the drug and is taken out. Nemea refuses to continue her part, for she is in love with Zephoris, resulting in a furious stretta.

ACT 3: (15 minutes)

Scene 1: The hut of Zephoris.

3: Je fus cruelle Zelide watches over the sleeping Zephoris (an aria has been cut, along with around half the dialogue for the act) and speaks with Pifear (also cut). Zephoris awakens, asks Zelide where he is, eventually Nemea shows up and the lovers are reunited in a touching duet **. She escapes just as Kadoor arrives looking for Zephoris (and not her?). This occurs to an accompanied recitative.

8: Arrêtez! arrêtez! Nemea returns just as Kadoor is about to stab Zephoris and declares her love for him in a furious trio **. The King arrives, and Zephoris warns that six thousand Portuguese are waiting off-shore to invade the city.

Scene 2: A public square in Goa.

12: Victoire! victoire! The Portuguese are defeated through the quick thinking of Zephoris and the King gives Nemea’s very willing hand to him in marriage to a return of the love theme from act two **.


My only complaint with this opera is that I wished I had a more complete recording available, or that there was more of this opera for me to listen to. Even so, the opera (in particular its overture) gives the impression that it could be something far larger than it is. Expand the role of the Portuguese conspiracy, perhaps have Nemea discover Kadoor with the Portuguese in act four (or get kidnapped), retain the existing features of the love triangle and the Sly trick, and replace all of the dialogue with recitatives, and this has become a five-act grand opera contrasting its romantic plot with political intrigue. It has the ingredients in miniature, including the failed invasion! What exists of the opera is rather lovely, musically it is very lush and probably more sophisticated than other Adam scores. On this recording at least, there isn’t a single bad number or even a mediocre number. The weakest number is the act one finale, which is appropriately sleepy. The characters are well projected, particularly Zephoris and Nemea, Kadoor, and King Moussol. Apart from Nemea, which requires the services of a coloratura soprano, the tenor vocal work really must be brought up. The score requires two high tenors for Zephoris and Pifear. King Moussol must also have high faculties. Zelide, although most of her role is cut here, also seems to require a coloratura soprano. My additions probably would not add for greater musical moments, unless Adam was really interested in composing Portuguese sailor choruses, a conspiracy scene, and a possible confrontation sequence between Nemea and Kadoor on board a Portuguese ship. Is there enough there for two extra acts? Probably not. But the final act is far too close to La muette de Portici for me not to notice the genre similarities. However, it certainly pulls a majestic punch. Beta plus.

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