I first got to know this opera from the original LPs that were issued and, since I no longer have a turntable, I was hoping that Padmavati would be issued on CD. Albert Roussel visited India in 1909 and was enchanted with the country. During this journey, Roussel and his wife visited the palace of Padmavati, near the ruins of the town of Chittorgarh, and saw the cave where she committed suicide. Back in France, Roussel was asked by Jacques Rouche to suggest a new project following the success of Le Festin de l'araignee and so Padmavati came to be composed. The opera was completed in 1918 and premiered in 1923 with a lavish stage design. Roussel thought of Padmavati as an opera-ballet because of all of the dance sequences in its two short acts. A good portion of the opera is purely orchestral, most notably with the Warrior dance in the first act and Padmavati's pantomime in the second act.
The story of the opera, in brief, is set in 13th century India at the city of Chitoor. From here the noble and just Prince Ratan-Sen rules India; he is married to the beautiful Padmavati. The drama of the story centers on the Mogul ruler of Delhi, Alauddin, who is approaching Chitoor with his army. Alauddin is entertained by Ratan-Sen but the Mogul wishes to see the face of Padmavati and when he sees her, unveiled, he falls in love with her and demands that she be handed over to him. Ratan-Sen, naturally, refuses. A battle ensues and Ratan-Sen is wounded and dies; Alauddin is unrelenting in his desire for Padmavati but she ends her life by joining her husband on his funeral pyre.
The recording is beautifully cast with Marilyn Horne as Padmavati and Nicolai Gedda as Ratan-Sen; Jose Van Dam makes a suitably sinister Alauddin. The chorus - Orfeon Donostiarra - are marvelous in their demanding role and the Orchestre Capitole de Toulouse, conducted by Michel Plasson, play beautifully, bringing out the exotic shadings of the music. The booklet reproduces the original album cover with Marilyn Horne dressed as Padmavati and while there is no libretto (it is available at [...]) but the synopsis is very detailed. The CDs are presented in a small box with each disc in a card sleeve. Padmavati is a must for fans of Roussel's music and early 20th century opera.