When Massenet composed Le Roi de Lahore, he hadn't yet developed the style which made him popular later on, like in Manon and Werther, operas where a more ‚Äúlyric drive‚ÄĚ was overtaking the habit to homage the grand-op√©ra genre, like the Parisian culture demanded at that time. However, Massenet, finding himself influenced by the public needs, with its symphonic exaggerations so close to the pompier of the grand-op√©ra, looked after the orchestral writing with special care, making it rich and variegated (to notice the use of a saxophone during the waltz in the Indian heaven). He also gave voice, as much as he could, to the ‚Äúintimistic‚ÄĚ drive which guides the characters of Sita and the King of Lahore Alim, through a passionate and obstructed love.
Synopsis Le Roi de Lahore
The citizens of Lahore, guided by the high priest Timour, pray to Indra for salvation from the approaching Muslim armies of Mahmoud. Scindia, the King's minister, arrives demanding Sita, one of the women of the temple, to be released from her vows; Timour replies that only the king can make such a request. Scindia reveals that he has heard that a man has been visiting her within the temple itself. The two men leave to go visit her. In the temple, Scindia tells Sita he is taking her to be married, and Sita is happy but when Scindia reveals to be in fact the intended husband, she sends him away. She confesses she has been visited by a man who talked of love but has never touched so much as her hand. Scindia begs for her love, but she refuses him. Offended and hurt, he swears revenge. He calls in all the citizens and orders her put to death. Alim, the King, who has just arrived through the secret door, reveals that he is the man she talks about and gives her his protection. Timour tells him that to expiate his sin, he must ride against Mahmoun's army.
In the camp of Alim's army, Sita watches some soldiers play chess, waiting for the King to return from battle. After she retires, the defeated soldiers return, telling the camp that the king is dying. Scindia takes this chance to take power for himself. Alim arrives, weak and pale, and tries to rally his soldiers but they reject him, leaving him dying in Sita's arms.
Alim is in Paradise and he appears before Indra. He begs to be able to return to Sita, and Indra agrees. He will be reincarnated, not as a king, but as a commoner, and his life will be linked to Sita's: in fact, if she dies, he will too.
In the palace, Sita mourns the death of her love and swears not to marry Scindia. Meanwhile, Alim is happy to be returned to life. He stops Scindia who's about to enter the palace to see Sita. Scindia and the people are confused by the sight of a man with the features and voice of the dead king. Alim demands to see Sita but Scindia orders him killed. Timour, acknowledging the will of Indra, intervenes and takes him into the temple.
Sita, who has fled from the palace in Indra's sanctuary, is about to kill herself. She pauses to listen to the evening prayer and in that moment Alim arrives through the secret door: the lovers try to flee together but Scindia arrives with his soldiers. Sita, trapped by Scindia's men, stabs herself and Alim, united to the same life chord, dies with her.