Don Sanche, St. John’s Smith Square, London, May 2011

Liszt harboured ambitions to be an opera composer, but Don Sanche or Le château de l’amour is his only work in that genre — yet it received its first performance in Paris in 1825 before he had even reached his 14th birthday!

Hearing this tuneful composition, reminiscent of Rossini and Donizetti, was an unalloyed pleasure. The story is that Don Sanche’s love for Elzire is unrequited, so he cannot enter the ‘Castle of Love’, presided over by the magician Alidor. Nor can she, so she and her maid Zelis, who are misled by Alidor into approaching the castle, have to spend a stormy night in the forest. The following day, the evil knight Romualde comes to take Elzire by force, and mortally wounds Don Sanche who defends her. This awakens Elzire’s love, and she is willing to give her own life for the noble Sanche. Fortunately Romualde was really Alidor in disguise, and when the wound magically vanishes the young couple are united, and all ends joyously.

This was a concert performance sung in the original French and given in a cut-down version without a chorus. It was given as a celebration of Europe Day 2011 by The European Youth Orchestra, which played beautifully under the direction of Laurent Pillot. The cast was young and the orchestra very young, though no one of course was as young as the composer had been. The singers were so good that one of my neighbours commented approvingly that they were better than the music. Giulio Pelligra sang the tenor role of Don Sanche with lyrical force, and Shadi Torbey was excellent in the baritone role of Alidor/Romualde. The mezzo roles of Elzire and Zelis were beautifully sung by Anaïk Morel and Ingeborg Gillebo, who also sang the part of the page. All four singers were delightful, both in their singing and stage presence, and though the first three all have web pages on the internet, the Norwegian, Ingeborg Gillebo has yet to create one. She should — I thought she was superb, and we will surely hear more of her.

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