Given Jules Massenet’s unassailable position in the pantheon of 19th-century French opera composers, it seems inexplicable that such a major work as his four-act grand opera Le Cid (1885) should never have made it across the Channel until this production by Dorset Festival Opera – a company with a solid track record in staging rarities.
Even so, one guesses that few Massenet fans would place this overblown epic high amongst his output. There are relatively few highlights amid some substantial longueurs.
That said, this handsomely designed and – apart from a switch in period to roughly Massenet’s own time – traditionally staged production shows the company achieving something that many bigger and far better resourced enterprises would quail at: a lavish presentation of a piece from the heyday of the Paris Opera, when it was the world’s most opulent theatre.
The company can rely on a committed, 70-strong chorus, unafraid of any challenge, and an orchestral complement of 50 that works perfectly in this venue. Conductor Jeremy Carnall demonstrates an ideal sense of balance and maintains momentum in a piece that could all too easily fall flat.
Pride of place amongst a doughty cast must go to Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo, who not only keeps going throughout the arduous title role of Rodrigue (alias Le Cid), but does so with the kind of ringing tone and old-fashioned heroic stance this piece of dramatic hokum needs to succeed. Soprano Lee Bisset responds with a Chimene of passion and authority.
Paul Gay’s dignity as Don Diegue is equalled by that of Charles Johnston as the Count of Gormas, their ridiculous row setting the entire plot in motion. Phillip Rhodes is the stern King of Spain and Ross Ramgobin makes two striking interventions as a Moslem emissary and (in the form of a singing silhouette) St James.