“Lahore” – an opera in five acts by Jules Massenet, a 19th century French composer much admired by Tchaikovsky – wrote over 25 operas, and hundreds of songs. Le Roi De Lahore stands out amongst his works because of its unusual theme. The opera was much admired as was most of his work. The libretto of Le Roi De Lahore is by Louis Gallet.
First performed in Paris in Theatre Opera, Lahore was an ode to Sita imploring the God Indra to save them from the invading Muslims led by Sultan Mahmoud. Commenting on the performance, Tchaikovsky, wrote in a letter that; “His opera, however, seduced me for its formal beauty, simplicity and freshness of the ideas and style, as well as for the richness of its melodies and the elegance of the harmony”
The extraordinary expect of this Opera is its confused narrative whilst attempting to be modern – Islamic characters are mixed up with Hindu gods such as Indra. Louis Gallet cleverly uses Sita who is played by Joséphine de Reszké as the protagonist, whilst Indra by Menu, Kaled by Fouquet, Timour by Boudouresque and Alim by Salomon. The creation of the role of Sita is credited to Joséphine de Reszké. A highly divisive piece of work, Le Roi De Lahore works within the tradition of orientalism – a romantic view of India – the mish-mashing of time-lines, the opera explores the invasion of Mogul empire and the demise of Hinduism.
Perhaps Le Roi De Lahore should be revived so that we may view the mind of the European artist at that time, their perception of historical facts – Timor’s character or Alim for that matter skips a few thousand years evoking the god Indra, above all using Sita as the protagonist. Nevertheless, it was exciting to come across the fact of Le Roi De Lahore by Jules Massenet.
“Act I-Scene I – Before the Temple of Indra in Lahore, groups of men and women press against the temple gates, imploring the God Indra to save them from the invading Mohammedans who, led by the Sultan Mahmoud, are imminently expected to appear before the city. Timour, the High Priest, seeks to reassure them, saying that even if the King does not take the field against the invader, Indra will send them his aid. As the people enter the temple, Scindia, the King’s minister, approaches Timour. He has fallen in love with his own niece, Sitâ, and asks that she may be released from her vows as a priestess of Indra so that he may marry her. When Timour refuses – for only the King has the right to remove a priestess from the temple – Scindia, racked by passion, jealousy and anger, reveals that he has been told that each evening Sitâ is visited by an unknown man as she tends the altar. Timour is incensed, and promises that if she has broken her vows she will be punished. He agrees to allow Scindia to see her, but adds that he will be at hand, ready to appear if she should show sign of guilt. Scindia continues to be torn by conflicting emotions, one moment hoping that Sitâ may prove innocent, the next wishing her dead if she should be found guilty”.