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French Opera at the Fin de Siecle$

Steven Huebner

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189544

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189544.001.0001

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(p.480) Appendix: Plot Summaries

(p.480) Appendix: Plot Summaries

French Opera at the Fin de Siecle
Oxford University Press

The Appendix comprises the plots of the thirteen operas discussed in detail in this book, in alphabetical order.

L'Attaque du moulin, drame lyrique

Alfred Bruneau; libretto by Louis Gallet after the eponymous short story by Emile Zola.

Cast (Opéra‐Comique, 23 November 1893): Dominique (tenor, Vergnet); a sentinel (tenor Clément); Merlier (baritone, Bouvet); the enemy captain (basse chantante, Mondaud); the French captain (tenor or baritone, Thomas); town crier (bass, Belhomme); FranÇoise (soprano, Leblanc); Geneviève (soprano, Laisne); Marcelline (mezzo‐soprano, Delna).


Act I.

Courtyard of the mill. Merlier's old servant Marcelline busies herself with preparations for a feast to celebrate the engagement of his daughter FranÇoise to a Belgian lad named Dominique. Merlier remembers that his initial reluctance to approve the union changed to complete acceptance as he became acquainted with Dominique's industriousness. He trusts that the mill that has meant so much to him over the years will be in good hands with his new son‐in‐law. Guests arrive and Merlier publicly announces the engagement. Same‐sex groups separately escort FranÇoise and Dominique into the courtyard. After the latter re‐enacts a traditional courting ritual, both offer pledges of their duties in marriage. Suddenly, a town crier interrupts the festivities by announcing the outbreak of war. Marcelline, whose two sons have fallen in battle, decries this turn of events. Dominique vows to defend his French family and the village.

Act II.

A large room; mattresses against the windows. A French battalion staves offan enemy advance at Merlier's mill with the help of Dominique. Having held his position for the time required, the French captain orders a retreat. Shortly, the enemy captain arrives with his squadron and is met by a stone‐faced Merlier. Since Dominique's hands are black with gunpowder he is an easy target for reprisal, especially because he has violated international convention by participating in the battle as a foreigner. The enemy captain orders him shot. Merlier attempts to deflect him from his intention, but when Dominique refuses to serve as a guide to the enemy soldiers, the captain vows that the execution will take place the next day. Dominique is locked up; he apostrophizes the forest. FranÇoise manages to slip into his cell from the window, and, after a brief love duet, she urges him to flee. (p.481) They pause to listen to the plaintive reflections of an enemy sentinel. The curtain falls to the guard's expression of Weltschmerz, but just before this FranÇoise gives Dominique a knife to help with the escape.

Act III.

Side view of the mill; dusk. Marcelline engages the sentinel in conversation. She remarks on how he resembles one of her fallen sons and learns that he has only a vague idea of why he is fighting. Dominique stealthily emerges from hiding near the mill and kills him. The fallen guard's cry brings the enemy soldiers running. Their captain vows that if the French family does not locate Dominique by the morning, Merlier will be executed in his place.

Act IV.

Courtyard of the mill; same set as the first act, but now showing signs of battle. Marcelline attempts to calm FranÇoise. The bugle call of a French unit is heard in the distance. Dominique suddenly appears, wearing an enemy coat that has allowed him to pass undetected. FranÇoise does not tell him about the enemy captain's threat; when Dominique and FranÇoise are out of earshot, Merlier enjoins Marcelline to follow his lead in trying to persuade Dominique to leave again. Soon Dominique begins to suspect the truth about the fate that awaits Merlier, but the old man and Marcelline vigorously insist that the enemy captain has sworn he will not be harmed. With these assurances, Dominique leaves in order to inform the nearby French unit about events at the mill. FranÇoise is relieved that both her lover and father appear to be saved and reminisces with the latter about her childhood. The French unit engages in a pitched battle with the enemy; Merlier laments the destruction of the mill. As the enemy troops withdraw, their captain follows through with his threat to execute the old man. At this moment Dominique bursts on the scene with a group of French soldiers. Marcelline underlines the irony of their victory cry with an imprecation against war.

Esclarmonde, opéra romanesque

Jules Massenet, libretto by Alfred Blau and Louis de Gramont

Cast (Opéra‐Comique, 15 May 1889): le chevalier Roland (tenor, Gibert); énéas (tenor, Herbert); Bishop of Blois (baritone, Bouvet); King Cléomer (baritone, Boudouresque); Emperor Phorcas (bass‐baritone, Taskin); Esdarmonde (soprano lyrique léger, Sanderson); Parséis (mezzo‐soprano, Nardi); a Byzantine herald (tenor, Cornubert); a Saracen envoy (tenor, Troy); dignitaries of the empire, knights, guards, monks, priests, warriors, virgins, spirits.



A great basilica. Phorcas, Emperor of Byzantium, announces to the populace his intention to pass on the throne to his eldest daughter, Esclarmonde. When she reaches the age of 20 a tournament will be held for her hand, but until (p.482) that time she is to remain veiled. Esclarmonde appears. Phorcas solemnly bestows the insignias of power and magic and instructs her sister Parséis to accompany the young empress. Before she leaves, and without singing a note, Esclarmonde briefly lifts her veil before her father's adoring eyes.

Act I.

Byzantium; a terrace of the palace. Esclarmonde pines for the French knight Roland, whom she has glimpsed from beneath her veil. Parséis suggests that she draw him to the tournament at the appropriate time by using her magical powers. When Parséis's lover énéas appears with the news that Roland has become a great hero and that the French king Cléomer at Blois intends to grant him his daughter, Esclarmonde decides to act more quickly. Invoking the moon and spirits, she conjures up images of Roland's subsequent actions under the influence of her magic: lost in the Ardennes forest, the knight embarks on a small vessel that she causes to appear; the boat steers towards an enchanted island where the young empress will soon join him.

Act II.

An enchanted island; magical gardens; moonlight. Roland is delighted by the dancing spirits who welcome him. He falls asleep only to awaken a short time later in Esclarmonde's arms. She offers him carnal delights and glory on condition that he never seek to gaze at her face or learn her name. Together they sing of their imminent sexual congress, which takes place during the subsequent graphic symphonic interlude.

A room in a magic palace; dawn. The two lovers bask in their blissful first night of love, but now other important matters require their attention. Esclarmonde prepares Roland to deliver the city of Blois from a Saracen siege, promising to visit him every night wherever he may be. To ensure his victory she arms him with the great sword of Saint George, brought in by a group of virgins who have been designated to protect it. The knight bows low before the holy relic, the handle of which becomes an illuminated cross, and the two reiterate their declarations of love.

Act III.

A field near Blois; a desolate scene with various machines of war strewn about. King Cléomer and his warriors appear helpless before the Saracen onslaught. The bishop of Blois clings to the hope that a saviour will emerge, but this possibility appears particularly distant when an envoy of the victor demands a tribute of 100 virgins. Roland suddenly arrives and exhorts the population to stand strong against the invader. While the bishop prays, Roland and the men go off to combat. They soon return victorious, but when Cléomer offers his daughter Bathilde to him, the knight declines. Whereas Cléomer forgives the offence, the bishop vows to get to the bottom of Roland's haughty rejection.

A room in King Cléomer's palace. Roland awaits Esclarmonde but it is the bishop who appears, reminding him that the road to salvation lies in confession. (p.483) The knight tells his confessor about the enchanted island. Convinced he is possessed by a demonic force, the bishop encourages him to pray and leaves. Roland hears Esclarmonde's voice and the two lovers fall into each other's arms. Just then, the bishop bursts in, attempts to exorcise the knight, and tears off Esclarmonde's veil. Although Roland is transfixed by her beauty, she suggests that because of his transgression he will never see her again. His sword disintegrates as he tries to protect the empress from guards who attempt to seize her. Esclarmonde nonetheless manages to escape by magic, protected by the spirits of fire.

Act IV.

A clearing in the Ardennes forest. After a divertissement of nymphs and forest spirits, a Byzantine herald announces the imminent tournament for the hand of Esclarmonde. Parséis and énéas break the news to Phorcas that his daughter is nowhere to be found. Using his own magical powers, Phorcas has her brought before him. The emperor is unmoved by Esclarmonde's tearful memory of her ecstasy with Roland on the island and sternly tells her that she will lose the throne and that Roland will die unless she has the strength to renounce him. After Phorcas, Parséis, and énéas leave, the knight appears. Esclarmonde asks him to forget about her, but Roland seeks to draw her away. She seems ready to follow when subterranean voices reiterate Phorcas's threat. In a near crazed state, Esclarmonde delivers the required renunciation and disappears. Shocked, Roland thinks of nothing but finding death in the upcoming tournament.


A great basilica. Phorcas prepares to crown the victor of the tournament. The latter advances with his visor lowered, refuses to reveal his identity, and declares that he has no desire to see the empress because his heart has already been given. Nevertheless, Phorcas lifts Esclarmonde's veil. Now recognizing his beloved, Roland is only too happy to accept her as his wife.

Fervaal, action musicale

Music and libretto by Vincent d'Indy

Cast (Théâtre royal de la Monnaie, 12 March 1897): Fervaal (tenor, Imbart de La Tour); Arfagard (baritone, Seguin); Guilhen (mezzo‐soprano, Raunay); Kaito (contralto, Armand); a shepherd (tenor); a messenger (baritone); priests, Celtic chieftains, warriors, peasants.



A forest in the Midi; full sun. Saracen brigands and peasants pursue the Celtic chieftain Fervaal; after killing forty of their number, he is finally struck down by an arrow. Arfagard, Fervaal's Druid companion and protector, attempts to defend him when the enchantress Guilhen, dressed in sumptuous oriental (p.484) fabrics, comes upon the scene on horseback. The peasants withdraw while she contemplates the features of the wounded chieftain. As his eyes meet Guilhen's, Fervaal curses love, but remains transfixed by her gaze. After he suddenly collapses, Guilhen offers to minister his wounds. Arfagard reluctantly agrees.

Act I.

Guilhen's gardens. Fervaal is healed and now Arfagard urges him to don his armour and leave the Saracen palace. The Druid reminds Fervaal of his Celtic homeland, the Cravann, the only one of the Celtic nations to preserve its ancient belief system. He reviews the three ages of Celtic history and reminds Fervaal that he is the last descendant of a glorious race of leaders, whose origin lies on the cloudy mountaintops of the Cévennes, and also about the laws of the mysterious serpent‐goddess Kaito. Arfagard's interpretation of a recent augury is that Fervaal, as the only possible saviour of the Celtic race, must forswear profane love. He tells Fervaal that he will prepare their escape and signal the moment with an old shepherd's song from their homeland. After Arfagard's departure, Guilhen finds Fervaal deeply troubled by his wish to return to the Cravann. He recounts tragic events in his youth, his years of unbridled joy in a sacred forest, and his current despondency faced with her feminine charms. When he inquires about her background, she contrasts her early years of independence roaming the countryside of the Midi to her current enraptured subjugation to Fervaal. They fall into each others' arms. Fervaal is momentarily distracted by Arfagard's shepherd song but Guilhen succeeds in drawing him back once again. Arfagard interrupts a second time and Fervaal breaks away with a mighty repudiation of love. Faced with abandonment, Guilhen does not wallow in regret for long. At that moment a large group of peasants make their way into the gardens; they are angry about the enchantress's abandonment of their needs in favour of a foreign lover. She emerges from hiding and exhorts them to make holy war on the Celts.

Act II.

Cravann; on a mountainside by a large stone altar; autumn, just before dawn. Fervaal struggles with his conscience. The shepherd's song is heard once again and Arfagard informs his charge that it is the signal for a grand meeting of the Celtic council. Thick fog begins to accumulate around the altar; it forms various fantastic images, including that of an immense snake. Arfagard calls out to Kaito. The snake disappears and she emerges amidst the encircling clouds which, themselves, have the aspect of female figures. Kaito prophesies that if the ancient laws are broken and love reigns over the world, the end of the era of the Celtic god Esus will follow; renewed life will only emerge from death. Dawn breaks and the fog lifts as the Celtic chieftains arrive. Arfagard warns the assembly about the impending attack by a Saracen horde: it will be necessary to choose a leader. Although various chieftains lay claim to this duty, Arfagard explains that Fervaal's divine ancestry entitles him to lead. Accompanied by his bard, Fervaal makes a grand appearance in resplendent armour. A human (p.485) sacrifice is enacted in order to confirm Fervaal's mission: in a solemn ceremony Arfagard spreads a cup of wine, as well as the victim's blood, on the altar. Just as Fervaal receives the leader's sword, a messenger bursts in with news of the severity of the Saracen invasion. Many of the chieftains want to disperse in order to defend their ancestral lands. Fervaal unites them in a common cause. But as the Celts work up bellicose ardour, their leader confesses privately to Arfagard that he has violated his vow of chastity. Furthermore, Fervaal also now understands Kaito's prophecy about renewed life from death to mean that it is he who must die. The army falls into ranks and Fervaal leads it into battle. Arfagard predicts darkly that Cravann will fall.

Act III.

Iserlach mountain, snow‐covered and in fall moon; corpses litter the slope. The Celts have been decimated. Fervaal is dismayed at not having found death in battle. Arfagard expresses affection for his charge. He now recognizes that, as prophesied by Kaito, the era of Esus will give way to that of Yésus and that Fervaals death is required at this epochal turning point. Just as he lifts a blade over Fervaal's prostrate body, Guilhen approaches. Fervaal instinctively leaps up, rejects the Celtic gods, and kills Arfagard when his mentor attempts to block his reunion with her. She describes her tribulations in the harsh environment of the Cévennes; mortally afflicted by the cold and confident that she is fulfilling the will of Destiny, she prepares to die in her lover's arms. Love and sacrifice show Fervaal the true way. Hallucinating, Fervaal imagines that he sees the red roses of Guilhen's garden on the blood‐soaked battlefield. Hidden voices softly intone the Pange lingua chant. Fervaal raises a great cry of victory on the field of death and declares that Kaito's prediction has come true: the era of Love is now upon the world. He sweeps up Guilhen's corpse and begins to climb the mountain. A gentle light envelopes the scene while the Pange lingua sounds again. Still bearing Guilhen, Fervaal disappears into the clouds.

Gwendoline, opéra

Emmanuel Chabrier; libretto by Catulle Mendès with contributions by Elzéar, pseud. Pierre Bonnier‐Ortolan

Cast (Théâtre royal de la Monnaie, 10 April 1886): Armel (tenor, Engel); Harald (baritone, Bérardi); Aella (baritone); Erick (tenor); Gwendoline (soprano, Thuringer). Saxon fishermen and servants, Danish pirates.


Act I.

Armel's house; a valley not far from the sea. At dawn, Saxon villagers make ready for a day's work. Gwendoline warns her father Armel, principal landowner and head of the fishery, about the menace of Danish pirates offshore. After the men leave, Gwendoline's companions tease her about such premonitions but she (p.486) remains possessed by her vision (légende, ‘Ils sont rudes et plus forts’). Suddenly the Saxon men return in disarray, victims of a surprise invasion. Harald, leader of the Danes, intones a ferocious sword song as he watches the carnage (‘Nous avons frappé des épées’). He orders Armel to reveal the location of his hoard When refused, Harald prepares to execute the old man. Gwendoline suddenly intervenes. Spellbound by unfamiliar feminine charm, the pirate lowers his sword and commands all others to leave. In an extended duet Gwendoline sines a spinning song, and succeeds in persuading him to spin. Danes and Saxons are stupefied by this turn of events. Harald asks Armel for the hand of his daughter, to which the Saxon elder consents while mollifying his compatriots with the promise of early revenge following the wedding feast. The two lovers take up the spinning song at the curtain.

Act II.

A brightly decorated hall. While a choral wedding procession sounds from an adjacent room, Armel checks with Aella and Erick about plans for stealing the weapons of the Danes and burning their ships. Gwendoline and Harald are led on and Armel blesses their union (épithalame ‘Comme le chÊne et le doux nid qui tremble’); covertly, however, he slips Gwendoline a dagger with which she is meant to dispatch Harald later that evening. When they are alone, Gwendoline urges Harald to flee but stops short of revealing the conspiracy and thereby betraying her father. Gwendoline and Harald sing of their love. Their ecstasy is interrupted by the shouts of the pirates being killed with their own weapons. Harald resolves to join his compatriots. Gwendoline gives him the dagger, swearing to join him in death.

A rugged site by the sea; Danish vessels are seen in the background. The pirates are slaughtered en masse. Harald staggers on and is caught against a tree by Armel. He bursts into defiant laughter when the old man stabs him. Gwendoline seizes the dagger she had earlier given to her lover and strikes herself before her father's eyes. The two lovers remain standing in a tight embrace against the tree as a ray of light descends upon them. They die while the Danish ships are incinerated in a ball of fire.

Henry VIII, opéra

Camille Saint‐SaËns, libretto by Léonce Détroyat and Armand Silvestre

Cast (Opéra, 5 March 1883): Don Gomez de Féria (tenor, Dereims); Count of Surrey (tenor, Sapin); Henry VIII (baritone, Lassalle); Cardinal Campeggio, papal legate (bass, Boudouresque); Duke of Norfolk (bass, Lorrain); Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury (bass, Gaspard); Catherine d'Aragon (soprano, Krauss); Anne de Boleyn (mezzo‐soprano, Richard); lady‐in‐waiting; four courtiers, court usher; an officer; judges; members of parliament, officers and soldiers, pages, the people.

(p.487) SETTING: ENGLAND, 1530s

Act I.

A room in the royal palace; two large windows overlook a public square. Don Gomez arrives at court and explains to the Duke of Norfolk that the queen, Catherine d'Aragon, has obtained his appointment as Spanish ambassador to the court. She acted on his behalf in order to unite him with his beloved, Anne de Boleyn. A letter from Anne to Gomez still in Catherine's possession had convinced her of the depth of their feelings. Now Norfolk informs Don Gomez that rumour at court has it that King Henry is himself enamoured of Anne and that she is even to be made a lady‐in‐waiting to the queen. When Don Gomez expresses confidence in Anne's fidelity, Norfolk warns of the king's strong will, moral insouciance, and power. As if to confirm this, a group of courtiers enters with news that the Duke of Buckingham is soon to be summarily executed by Henry's order. The king himself then welcomes Don Gomez to court and casually expresses approval that a matter of the heart lies behind the appointment, though he is unaware of the details. Alone with Surrey, Henry expresses irritation that his secret overture to the Pope to dissolve his marriage has been rebuffed; he sings of love's tortures (‘Qui donc commande quand il aime’). Catherine then makes a plea for Buckingham's life, even though he had once been her enemy. Henry steadfastly refuses and when he hints that their own marriage is not sacrosanct, Catherine protests that a union blessed by the Pope may not be overturned. With Anne now present, Henry continues by officially declaring that Anne will be Catherine's lady‐in‐waiting as well as the marquise of Pembroke. Just then, the De Profanais of Buckingham's funeral cortege is heard; while Catherine and the other courtiers rush to the window, Henry gloats about his power and expresses his love to Anne.

Act II.

The park at Richmond castle. Various courtiers comment on the innocent play of pages who are too young to understand the sordid intrigue of court life. Anne has now been obviously installed as the King's favourite at Richmond. Don Gomez gives vent to his exasperation and, after watching Anne being regaled with gifts by ladies of the court, confronts her directly. She denies forgetting about his love; their conversation, however, is cut short by the arrival of Henry. The king, taken aback by seeing them together, invites Don Gomez to attend a celebration later that evening. He then presses Anne to yield to his amorous advances. She will have no part of being his mistress, but when he reveals that he intends to make her his wife, Anne becomes enthralled by the prospect of reigning as queen. Henry promises to take the necessary steps to annul his marriage to Catherine. Left alone, Anne revels in the thought of her future glory (‘Reine! je serai reine!’). The arrival of Catherine puts an end to this self‐indulgence: the queen chastises Anne for her ambition, with a reminder that her marriage to Henry is a sacred bond. When Henry returns with a group of (p.488) courtiers he hints broadly once again that the bond is not as inviolable as she thinks. At that moment the papal legate is admitted. Although his initial pronouncement does not seem promising for Henry's plans, the king puts him off to the next day while dancers are ushered in for entertainment.

Act III.

The Kings palace. Surrey announces the legate, but Henry insists that he does not wish to see him. He deplores the influence of Rome and looks forward to the day when the kings of Europe will be unencumbered by it. Sensing the fate that awaits Catherine, Anne voices second thoughts about the marriage, rousing suspicions in Henry that she has had another lover. Nor does the legate restrain himself. He warns the king not to follow through with abandoning Catherine. Henry, in turn, invokes the authority of parliament and the people of England. Shaking his head over the pride of kings, the legate promises to present his position at the synod that Henry has convened.

The Synod held at the English parliament. The archbishop of Canterbury, clergy, and peers of the realm have gathered to sit in judgement of Henry's petition to divorce Catherine. After the king announces his intention, Catherine steps forward to plead her case, based on Faith and respect for Church institutions. Don Gomez seconds her appeal, provoking remarks among many of those assembled about the inappropriateness of an intervention by a foreigner. The legate makes a grand appearance to read a bull from Pope Clement VII upholding Henry's marriage and opposing any other arrangement. Following such a deposition by another foreign potentate, Henry appeals to xenophobic instincts and throws open the doors of the hall to the people. He announces the creation of the Church of England; the legate excommunicates him on the spot; the people support their king.

Act IV.

The apartments of Queen Anne. To the strain of a minuet that lords and ladies rehearse for the later delectation of the king, Norfolk and Surrey comment that he has appeared troubled since his marriage to Anne. Anne receives Don Gomez, who pointedly tells her that, though he has buried his old love, evidence of it still exists in the letter that had first convinced Catherine to support his appointment as ambassador. As earlier in the opera, Henry comes upon the two together again, further provoking his suspicions. He asks for news of Catherine, who is ensconced in isolation at Kimbolton manor. Gomez reports that the former queen still prays for him. Henry decides to visit her, not to inquire about her condition but rather to search for evidence of Anne's earlier betrayal.

Kimbolton manor. Catherine sings nostalgically about her Spanish homeland (‘Je ne te reverrai jamais’). On the brink of death, she gives instructions to her servants about how to dispose of her effects. Anne is admitted into her apartment; deeply agitated, she appeals to Catherine as a Christian and expresses (p.489) remorse about her past actions. Her real motives for visiting soon become apparent: terrified of Henry's jealousy, she seeks to learn what has become of her incriminating letter to Gomez. Henry and Gomez come upon them. The king cruelly attempts to incite Catherine's jealousy by directing ardent words of love at Anne. Catherine prays for strength to resist the temptation to fall as low as Anne and Henry by revealing the letter. In the final gesture of her life she throws it into the fire. Henry remarks that although Catherine has taken her secret to the grave, the axe still awaits whomever has humiliated him.

Louise, roman musical

Music and libretto by Gustave Charpentier

Cast (Opéra‐Comique, 2 February 1900): Principals: Julien (tenor, Maréchal); the father (baritone, Fugère); Louise (dramatic soprano, Riotan); the mother (contralto, Deschamps‐Jehin). Secondary characters: Irma (soprano); Camille (soprano); Elise (soprano); Suzanne (soprano); Madeleine (soprano); forewoman (soprano); apprentice (soprano); newspaper girl (soprano); milkwoman (soprano); birdseed seller (soprano); Blanche (mezzo‐soprano); coal gatherer (mezzo‐soprano); young rag‐picker (mezzo‐soprano); Gertrude (contralto); Marguerite (contralto); street sweeper (contralto); noctambulist/King of Fools (tenor); young poet (tenor); student (tenor); first police officer (tenor); carrot seller (tenor); green peas seller (tenor); used clothes seller (tenor); songwriter (baritone); painter (baritone); sculptor (baritone); an old bohemian (baritone); second philosopher (baritone); rag‐picker (bass); junk man (bass); first philosopher (bass); second police officer (bass); street sellers; workers; bohemians; grisettes, beggars, young boys, people of Montmartre.


Act I.

Louises home: humble working‐class furnishings, mansard roof, kitchen to the right, large window opening to a balcony on the left. The young poet Julien serenades Louise from a neighbouring balcony. He recalls her promise to elope with him if her parents continue to refuse his offers of marriage. Together, they remember their first moments of love. Louise's mother returns from running errands and overhears their declarations of love. To Julien's mocking laughter, she drags Louise away and contemptuously parodies the earlier dialogue of the lovers. While mother and daughter quarrel, the father returns home from work, tired to the bone. The family sits down for the evening meal. Louise's father re‐reads a new letter from Julien and seems ready to give him a chance by inviting him to their flat. But the mother bitterly opposes this plan. Annoyed with the family bickering, the father draws Louise aside and explains to her that the heart is a less reliable judge than experience. He gently advises her to forget about Julien. Although she swears devotion to her father, she breaks into sobs as she reads the evening paper to him: the story is about the brilliant spring season in Paris.

(p.490) Act II.

A square at the base of the Butte Montmartre; early morning. Workers and street sellers set up for the business of the day. The noctambulist, dressed in an elegant cloak, teases some of the girls and boasts that he represents the ‘pleasure of Paris’. After he leaves, an old rag‐picker recognizes him as the erstwhile seducer of his daughter. Julien appears with some of his bohemian friends; they make merry of his infatuation with Louise as he waits to accost his beloved on her way to the seamstresses' workshop. Louise arrives, escorted by her mother. Once the latter is at a safe distance, Julien attempts to persuade Louise to run off with him. She promises that she will follow the next day and continues on to work. Various street cries in the distance accompany a used clothes merchant as he makes his rounds.

A seamstresses' workshop. Risking a reprimand from the forewoman, the seamstresses tease Louise about being in love. She is embarrassed but attention is momentarily shifted away by the arrival outside of Julien and his friends, who have come to serenade her. Unaware that Julien's serenade is for Louise, the seamstresses at first enjoy his attentions; they are soon bored, however, and begin to mock him. Louise becomes agitated, drops her work, complains that she is not feeling well, and leaves the workshop. The young women watch her departure from a window and observe that she has joined Julien.

Act III.

A small garden on Montmartre; a small house on the left; panorama of Paris clearly visible; dusk. Julien and Louise now live together: she sings of her happiness and Julien extols a bohemian life of free love. As they sing of their love, monuments in the city below become illuminated. The lovers remark that Paris seems to be joining them in their amorous ecstasy. Julien's friends as well as other denizens of Montmartre arrive on the scene in a festive mood. Among the crowd is the noctambulist, now dressed as jester called the ‘King of Fools’; he becomes the self‐appointed master of ceremonies in a celebration to crown a ‘muse of Montmartre’. Louise is the chosen one and various groups either celebrate her or comment upon the improvised ritual. Suddenly, Louise's mother disrupts the commotion. She tells the two lovers that the father is very ill and has been calling for his daughter. Promising Julien that Louise will be allowed to return to him, the mother leads her away. The rag‐picker wryly comments on the toll extracted on families by the great city.

Act IV.

Louise's home; same decor as the first act. Louise works silently by a window, lost in her own thoughts. In a long monologue her father complains of their arduous working‐class life. He feels especially despondent because, despite all his sacrifices, his daughter's affections seem to have been stolen. Taking her in his arms, he sings a lullby from Louise's childhood. When he warns her about returning to Julien, she becomes increasingly angry and asserts her independence, calling on Paris to aid her. Flying into a rage, the father throws open the (p.491) door and tells her to go. Hesitating only a moment, Louise takes up his offer. He calls after her, stumbles back into the room, and shakes his fist at the city skyline with a cry of despair.

Manon, opéra comique

Jules Massenet, libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille after Abbé Prévost, Histoire du Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut.

Cast (Opéra‐Comique, 19 January 1884): Chevalier Des Grieux (tenor, Talazac); Guillot de Morfontaine (tenor, Grivot); Lescaut (baritone, Taskin); De Brétigny (baritone, Collin); Comte Des Grieux (bass, Talazac); an innkeeper (basse bouffe, Labis); two guards (tenors, Teste and Bernard); Manon (soprano, Heilbronn); Poussette (soprano, Mole‐Truffier); Javotte (mezzo‐soprano, Chevalier); Rosette (mezzo‐soprano, Rémy); a sergeant at arms, doorman at the seminary, an archer, a gambler, a servant (spoken roles); inhabitants of Amiens, inhabitants of Paris, travellers, porters and postillions, street sellers, worshippers, gamblers, croupiers.


Act I.

The courtyard of an inn at Amiens. Guillot, three of his mistresses (the actresses Poussette, Javotte, and Rosette), and the fermier générale Brétigny arrive with great commotion and expect a sumptuous repast from the innkeeper. During the time they are in the pavilion, the courtyard fills with people in anticipation of the arrival of the coach. Among them is Lescaut, who awaits his cousin Manon. He has been instructed to escort her to a convent, but when she emerges from the coach he is pleasantly surprised by her allure. She sings of exhilaration on her first trip (‘Je suis… encor… tout étourdie…’). While Lescaut attends to her baggage, she catches the eye of Guillot, who invites her to use the carriage that he will send later to spirit her off to him. Lescaut shoos Guillot away but then leaves Manon alone again while he settles a gambling matter, admonishing his charge to stay put and keep to herself. Manon reflects upon the luxurious attire of the three actresses and attempts to persuade herself to forget them (‘Voyons Manon, plus de chimères!’). The chevalier Des Grieux arrives in order to take the coach but falls in love with Manon as soon as he sets eyes upon her. Flattered by his attentions and no less infatuated herself, Manon quickly forgets about the convent. They resolve to flee to Paris together in Guillot's carriage. Lescaut and Guillot come upon the scene after they disappear. Both vow to catch up with the couple while a crowd of onlookers laughs at how the two men have been duped.

Act II.

The apartment of Des Grieux and Manon on the rue Vivienne. The two young lovers have lived together for three months. Des Grieux is prepared to marry Manon and reads a letter he has written to his father asking for permission to (p.492) marry her. A knock is heard. Lescaut and Brétigny enter and after the former's angry fulminations at Des Grieux, Brétigny quietly informs Manon that, by order of the chevalier's father, he will be kidnapped from the apartment that very day and restored to his family. Brétigny promises Manon a life in the lap of luxury if she does not inform Des Grieux of the plan. After the two older men leave, Des Grieux posts his letter. Alone, Manon sings a farewell to the little table they had shared (‘Adieu, notre petite table’). When Des Grieux returns he does not notice her troubled frame of mind and sings of a blissful dream about their happiness together. Knocking is heard once again. Manon attempts to prevent the chevalier from answering. It is too late: Des Grieux goes to the door and is forced away.

Act III.

The promenade of the Cours‐la‐Reine; a bright festival day. Amid the cries of street vendors, Poussette, Javotte, and Rosette enjoy an assignation with three young clerks. Lescaut plays the seducer and sings about the charms of a certain Rosalinde. Manon makes a grand appearance in the company of Brétigny. She basks in her beauty and hedonistic life (‘Je marche sur tous les chemins’), but soon learns from the Comte Des Grieux that his son had suffered so much upon their separation that he resolved to enter a religious order. The arrival of the Opéra ballet, specially hired by Guillot in order to impress Manon, momentarily distracts her. After the performance she ignores Guillot's advances and rushes off to Saint‐Sulpice.

The parlour of Saint‐Sulpice. Comte Des Grieux attempts in vain to dissuade his son from the calling of a seminarian. When he is alone, however, Des Grieux still cannot escape the memory of Manon (‘Ah! Fuyez, douce image’). She enters the parlour praying for divine clemency in her mission to reconquer the heart of Des Grieux. He resists at first but is soon completely transported by her charms. They leave together.

Act IV.

The hÔtel de Transylvanie, a luxurious gambling den. Manon and Des Grieux arrive to find Guillot, Lescaut, and the three actresses immersed in the pleasures of the dice. At first Des Grieux refuses to bet, but Manon reminds him of their impecunious state. Lescaut manages to convince the chevalier to try his luck. Des Grieux does so well playing against Guillot that the two lovers are accused of cheating. Guillot leaves to fetch the police, who promptly arrest Manon and Des Grieux. Having been alerted to the precarious situation of his son, the Comte suddenly intervenes and assures him that he will be released. Manon will not be as fortunate.

Act V.

The road to Le Havre. Lescaut and Des Grieux await the prisoners who will be deported. They bribe the sergeant who leads the convoy to allow Des Grieux a moment alone with Manon. Exhausted and near death, she admits that she has been unfaithful and unworthy. She begs to be pardoned, and he warmly (p.493) takes her into his arms. With a final kiss and embrace, they recall their great coming together at Saint‐Sulpice. Des Grieux emits an anguished cry as he falls over his dead lover's body.

Le Roi Arthus, drame lyrique

Music and libretto by Ernest Chausson

Cast (Théâtre royal de la Monnaie, 30 November 1903): Lancelot (tenor, Dalmorès); Lyonnel (tenor, Forgeur); a ploughman (tenor, Henner); Arthus (baritone, Albers); Merlin (baritone, Cotreuil); Mordred (baritone, FranÇois); Allan (bass, Vallier); Genièvre (mezzo‐soprano, Paquot‐d'Assy); knights, squires, pages, bards, women in the retinue of Genièvre.


Act I.

A great hall in the palace of Arthus at Carduel. Before an assembled throng, Arthus lavishes praise upon his knights for their great victory over the Saxon enemy; he wishes that Merlin were also there to celebrate the event. To the consternation of the jealous Mordred and his followers, the king singles out his knight Lancelot for the highest encomium. Lancelot, however, seems uneasy with the tribute. Queen Genièvre, until then a silent observer, descends from the throne and offers Lancelot a golden cup in appreciation of his valour. But under her breath she beckons him to come to her that night. Mordred witnesses their exchange; his suspicions are raised.

The castle terrace. Lyonnel, Lancelot's page, stands guard while night watchmen sing; he curses the forbidden love of his master for Genièvre and bemoans his lack of caution: he believes that Mordred is surely spying on them. Genièvre and Lancelot appear on the threshold of the queen's apartments in tight embrace. They sing of their love as a dream, oblivious to the real world. When Lyonnel warns the lovers of the approaching day, they reluctantly separate. Mordred catches them together and in the ensuing duel with Lancelot appears to be struck dead. The lovers hastily agree to meet later that day in a neighbouring forest. After Lancelot departs, Mordred unexpectedly begins to stir and calls to the palace guard for help. As full day breaks out, soldiers gather around the wounded man.

Act II.

High noon at the edge of a pine forest. While Lancelot waits, a ploughman sings a song about how mighty Arthus vanquished the giant Rion with his great sword Escalibor. Lancelot is racked with guilt and reproaches himself for betraying the trust of his king. Genièvre runs to meet him with the news that Mordred is alive. Alone among the knights of the Round Table, Arthus refuses to lend credence to the accusation of adultery. Genièvre urges her lover to go before the king and falsely declare his innocence. He balks, but faced with her repeated questioning of his mettle, resolves to lie and then find death on the battlefield. (p.494) Lancelot reasons that to go on living would be futile because Mordred would forever watch them at court. Genièvre, too, cannot bear such a fate and proposes that they flee. Persuaded by the prospect of freedom to love the queen, he draws her away with him.

An inner courtyard at Arthus's castle. Arthus ponders Mordred's accusation and wonders why Lancelot has not come to him. He had thought the mission of the Round Table to be noble and imperishable. Now, seeds of destruction appear in the dissent and treachery at court: Mordred seems to be plotting the king's downfall. Arthus calls out for Merlin. The branches of the surrounding apple trees part and the sorcerer appears as an old man. He prophesies the destruction of the Round Table by observing that they both had placed too much stock in human virtue. Merlin disappears while leaving Arthus's desperate questions about Lancelot and Genièvre unanswered. The situation becomes clearer when a group of knights rushes on with news of the couple's flight. Arthus declares war on Lancelot.

Act III.

Overlooking the battlefield; the sea on the horizon. Mordred has usurped the throne during Arthus's battle with Lancelot. Genièvre confidently tells her attendant Allan that her lover will emerge victorious. Lancelot arrives unexpectedly, confessing that he has fled the scene of battle. To Genièvre's utter bewilderment he recounts his loss of resolve upon catching a glimpse of Arthus. Her blandishments leave him unmoved; he proposes that they both seek the king's pardon. This, the queen haughtily refuses to do. She begs Lancelot not to abandon her, but he leaves declaring that his life now belongs to the king. Seized with despair, Genièvre casts about for a weapon. Suddenly she becomes possessed by an idea: she unravels her braids, rolls her hair around her neck, and strangles herself.

A plain by the sea. A group of soldiers gathers around Lancelot as he lies unconscious on the beach. When Arthus arrives, Lancelot briefly comes to and offers his sword to the king for the final blow. Arthus refuses and, now also aware of Genièvre's suicide, bitterly reflects upon the failure of his ideals. Just before heaving his last breath, Lancelot assures him that the vision of the Round Table will endure. The king himself feels his energy to live dissipate. Seraphic voices beckon and promise that he will rise again to struggle for eternal justice. As the sun sinks into the sea, Arthus lies outstretched on a skiff, closes his eyes, and floats into the horizon.

Le Roi d'Ys, légende bretonne, opéra

édouard Lalo, libretto by édouard Blau

Cast (7 May 1888, Opéra‐Comique): Mylio (tenor, Talazac); Karnac (baritone, Bouvet); Saint Corentin (baritone or bass, Fournets); Jahel (baritone or tenor, Bussac); Le Roi d'Ys (basse chantante, Cobalet); Rozenn (soprano, Simonnet); Margared (mezzo‐soprano or falcon, Deschamps‐Jehin); seigneurs, warriors, soldiers, pages, squires, the people.


Act I.

A terrace of the palace belonging to the king of Ys. The curtain opens to jubilant celebration: a war has ended and peace will be sealed by marriage of the king's daughter Margared to the leader of the enemy, Karnac. As the crowd disperses, Margared's sister Rozenn wonders why she appears so unhappy. The young bride‐to‐be confesses that she is marrying against her will: her heart still belongs to a man now believed lost at sea. The women of the court lead Margared away, affording Rozenn a moment to reflect that she loves Mylio, who disappeared on the very same boat as Margared's beloved. She can scarcely believe that he is gone for ever and, remarkably enough, after she calls out for him he emerges behind her. He has not been lost after all: the two reunited lovers are beside themselves with joy. They quickly separate as the bridal procession nears. The king escorts Margared while Karnac, followed by his warriors, also comes forward. Just as the ceremony begins, Rozenn informs her sister that Mylio has returned. Margared abruptly refuses to go ahead with the pact, for it is Mylio himself whom she really loves. Karnac is deeply angered, the king incredulous. And when Karnac throws down his gauntlet to restart hostilities, Mylio emerges from the crowd to take up the challenge.

Act II.

A great hall in the king's palace. Margared observes the manoeuvres of Karnac's troops from a window; she gives voice to her passion for the hero who leads the army of Ys (‘Lorsque je t'ai vu soudain’). She suspects, however, that Mylio really loves Rozenn: if this is true, her love will transform itself into hate. When the king enters, accompanied by Rozenn and Mylio, Margared hides. She hears the two young people swear their love with the apparent approbation of the king. Once the two men leave for battle, her rage boils over at her sister: she would rather see Mylio die in combat than live in another's arms.

A vast plain; ancient chapel to the right; a silhouette of Ys in the distance. The people of Ys acclaim the great victory of Mylio over Karnac's horde. For his part, Mylio attributes his success to the beneficence of Saint Corentin, at whose chapel he offers homage. When the field is clear, Karnac appears, exhausted and powerless because his men have abandoned him. He comes across Margared, who proposes that, as a means of mutual revenge, they open the sluice gates of the dykes that hold back the ocean from the city. As they pass before Saint Corentin's chapel, Margared defies the saint to save his people. The sky suddenly darkens and the statue comes alive with an exhortation for Margared and Karnac to repent.

Act III.

A gallery of the palace; Rozenn's chambers to the left; chapel to the right. Following custom, the bride is kept in the company of her friends, so as to prevent companions of the bridegroom from approaching her. Mylio himself attempts to break through with a gentle aubade (‘Vainement, ma bien aimée’). (p.496) After Rozenn appears in full Breton bridal dress, a nuptial cortège forms towards the chapel. To the sound of the Te Deum, Karnac and Margared have a rapid exchange: when she appears to falter in her resolve, he excites her jealousy Together they leave for the sluices. As the wedding ceremony ends, the king expresses sorrow that Rozenn's sister was not present. Mylio comforts him before leaving. Margared does return, but the king's happiness is soon interrupted by shrieks of terror outside. Margared tells the assembled guests that death is upon them. Mylio runs back and confirms that the sluices have been opened; Karnac has been killed but the flood waters are rising rapidly.

A high plateau overlooking the city. The surviving inhabitants of Ys pray that they will be spared. Margared counters that the waters will only stop when a victim is delivered to the ocean. After she explains her role in the calamity, the people of Ys demand her death. Rozenn, Mylio, and the King beg for clemency on her behalf. But Margared has already chosen her course of action: she rapidly climbs a nearby rock and throws herself into the sea with a supplication for the safety of her people. At that moment Saint Corentin emerges in a ray of light and the people of Ys give thanks to God for calmer waters.

Le Roi malgré lui, opéra comique (follows first edition)

Emmanuel Chabrier, libretto by émile de Najac, Paul Burani, and Jean Richepin

Cast (Opéra‐Comique, 18 May 1887): Le Comte de Nangis (tenor, Delaquerrière); Henri de Valois (baritone, Bouvet); Le Duc de Fritelli (baryton bouffe, Fugère); Laski (bass, Thierry); French seigneurs: Liancourt (tenor, Caisso), d'Elbeuf (tenor, Michard), Maugiron (baritone, Collin), Caylus (baritone, Troy); a soldier (bass, Cambot); Basile (trial, Barnolt); Minka (soprano, première chanteuse, Isaac); Alexina (soprano, première chanteuse, Mézeray); six serfs; pages; French seigneurs; Polish seigneurs; soldiers; Polish ladies; Polish peasants.


Act I.

A gallery overlooking the winter garden of a chateau near Cracow. Henri de Valois, Duke of Anjou, has been named King of Poland. Together with his retinue and his close friend the Comte de Nangis, he awaits in a castle on the outskirts of town for his coronation the next day. His companions give voice to their homesickness; they pass the time with various games: dice, cards, and cup‐and‐ball (introduction ‘Cinq / Trois /J'ai gagné!’). Nangis sings a patter song about the general sobriety of the environment; he has just returned from a trip to recruit soldiers for Henri's guard. Whereas the people support the appointment of Henri to the throne, Polish aristocrats led by Albert Laski favour the archduke of Austria. Due to rumours of a conspiracy against Henri, the French (p.497) party agrees that it must continue to keep his identity concealed until the coronation. An Italian ex‐patriot named Fritelli has been hired to be Henri's chamberlain but unbeknownst to the French, Fritelli's wife Alexina is related to Laski. After Fritelli elaborates on the dissimilarity between the French and Poles (couplets ‘Le Polonais est triste et grave’), Nangis reveals that he has fallen in love with Minka, a slave in the Laski household. Just then, she appears (entrée de Minka et scène ‘Ah! laissez‐moi, de grâce!’). After a short amorous exchange in which Nangis attempts to persuade her to abandon her station in life (she responds with the couplets ‘Hélas! á l'esclavage’), Minka begins to tell him about the conspiracy. She is interrupted by the appearance of Henri and runs off, but not before promising that she will meet Nangis later that evening. Henri makes little secret of his nostalgia for France (romance ‘Cher pays, pays du soleil’). He is distressed by a letter from his mother ordering him to marry an older Polish princess and further requiring his retinue to make sure he does not his renege on his duties. Nangis reminds him that he had not always thought ill of Poles since he had once briefly fallen in love with a Polish duchess in Venice. Fritelli happens upon them and recognizes that the object of Henri's sentimental reminiscing is his own wife, Alexina. The latter promptly makes an appearance for a private tÊte á tÊte with her husband, during which she explains the material benefits of joining the archduke of Austria's cause (air ‘Pour vous je suis ambitieuse!’). Fritelli's role will be to kidnap Henri and spirit him out of Poland. Minka, for her part, runs into Henri and (unaware of his identity) tells him about both her affection for Nangis and the conspiracy against the king‐to‐be (duo ‘Je l'aime de toute mon âme’): there is to be an important political meeting that very night, under the pretext of a ball. Henri can scarcely contain his joy at the news because he sees this as a sure way to rid himself of the Polish crown. He tells Fritelli to take him to Laski's palace and introduce him as a co‐conspirator named Nangis. As part of the ruse, Henri publicly disgraces the real Nangis, to create the impression of a disaffected subject (finale ‘La garde fidèle’); his friend is to remain under house arrest. Just as Henri prepares to set off with Fritelli, they meet Alexina. The reluctant king is introduced to her as Nangis and emotions from their earlier encounter in Italy are immediately rekindled, not least because Henri‐as‐Nangis has now become a co‐conspirator. Minka's song is heard from a distance, the signal for her rendezvous with the real Nangis. He easily escapes from his room to join her.

Act II.

The ballroom in Laski's palace. During a festive chorus and energetic waltz Laski prepares for the ouster of the French king (introduction et chœur dansé ‘Ah! ah! Valse endiablée’). He is delighted by Alexina's news that Fritelli will conduct the king to them that very night and also pleased with news about a French conspirator named Nangis. The assembled principals relish the thought (p.498) of this betrayal of Henri by such a close friend (scène et couplets ‘Rien n'est aussi près de la haine / Que l'amitié’) and Henri‐as‐Nangis observes that Alexina is really Fritelli's wife. In the meantime Minka has returned to her duties in Laski's household and is seen persuading the other slaves of the depth and sincerity of her Frenchman's love (sextuor des serves et chanson tzigane ‘Mais quelle affaire!’) Henri‐as‐Nangis is displeased when he learns from Minka that Nangis has followed her to the palace; he orders Fritelli to lock her up in an adjoining room after she accuses him of treachery against the king. With Fritelli absent for the moment, Henri‐as‐Nangis has a brief settling of accounts with Alexina, followed by a tender moment (duo‐barcarolle ‘Oui! je vous hais!’). Fritelli comes upon the two, but has little time to protest before a group of conspirators including Laski enters the hall. During the ensuing oath‐taking episode (ensemble de la conjuration ‘Messieurs! c'est un ami respirant la vengeance’) Fritelli attempts to dissuade the group from carrying out its plan to kidnap the French king‐to‐be (much to Henri's dismay). Therefore, to expedite matters Henri‐as‐Nangis promises he can produce the king‐to‐be at a moment's notice. He summons Minka and, with assurances that he is there to save the king, asks her to beckon Nangis. She sings a song which is her signal to him (morceau d'ensemble et chanson franÇaise ‘Ah! viens! Minka fidèle’). Nangis appears. Under his breath Henri‐as‐Nangis tells his friend to play along, and announces to the conspirators that Nangis is Henri. Nangis‐as‐Henri reluctantly takes up his new role, not without promising some promotions for himself. Minka is astounded that her beloved is the king‐to‐be. Henri‐as‐Nangis proposes to Laski that he will escort Nangis‐as‐Henri to the border (in that way, of course, effecting an escape). The conspirator, however, locks up Nangis‐as‐Henri and proposes a change of plan: because the king‐to‐be can return to Poland with an army to wreak revenge, it would be better to kill him immediately. All agree to the change and reject Henri‐as‐Nangis's claim that he is really the king‐to‐be (final ‘Avant une heure, il faut qu'il meure’). Henri‐as‐Nangis even draws the lot to commit the murder. He reasons to himself that he can reach some sort of solution to the dilemma with his friend but events rebound in yet another direction when all learn that Nangis‐as‐Henri has been set free by Minka. Henri‐as‐Nangis vows to remain hot on the trail of Nangis‐as‐Henri; the other conspirators express fear of French reprisals.

Act III.

A large hall in an inn. Basile and local peasants decorate the inn to celebrate the coronation day: because of the flight of the French king‐to‐be, Fritelli informs them that it is the archduke of Austria who will be crowned (chÆur et scène ‘Hâtons‐nous!’). Henri‐as‐Nangis appears and asks for a mount to get him across the border. He tells Fritelli of his disappointment that he and his wife are not accompanying him. Suddenly Alexina bursts in with the news that the archduke has renounced the crown. She has now thrown her support (p.499) behind the French party (because of her romantic liaisons with Henri, as Fritelli well knows, couplets ‘Je suis du pays des gondoles’). Fritelli falsely informs his wife that Henri‐as‐Nangis dutifully carried out his assignment to kill the king and has gone into hiding. Alexina vows to locate him. When Minka happens upon the scene she is told that Nangis‐as‐Henri is nowhere to be found. Both women express anxiety about the fate of their lovers (nocturne á deux voix ‘O rÊve éteint’). Minka comes to fear that Nangis‐as‐Henri might actually have been assassinated; she runs off in great distress. When Henri‐as‐Nangis reappears, Alexina is prepared to flee with him so that he can escape retribution for having murdered the king (rondeau á deux voix ‘Ah! d'amour plus un mot!’). They decide to disguise themselves as servants in order to escape. Meanwhile, Minka is despondent over the putative death of Nangis‐as‐Henri; when he appears before her eyes, she falls into his arms (duo ‘Il n'est plus, hélas!’). Minka warns him that Henri‐as‐Nangis has vowed to carry through the assassination and that Alexina had even (mistakenly) told her that the deed had been done. Now it is Nangis‐as‐Henri's turn to worry, as he fears for his friend's life. He and Minka set out in search of Henri‐as‐Nangis. Not recognizing his wife, Fritelli encourages Alexina and Henri‐as‐Nangis to flee because of the impending arrival of the French party (which has orders to keep Henri in Poland). When the seigneurs arrive, Minka inculpates Fritelli and Alexina for the disappearance of the king. But Alexina and Henri‐as‐Nangis are caught and brought back to the inn. The identities are set straight and Henri grants the hand of Minka to Nangis (final ‘La garde fidèle’). He also gives Fritelli a letter to take to his mother in Paris, thus ensuring some time alone with Alexina as he takes up his reign as King of Poland, malgré lui.

Sigurd, opéra

Ernest Reyer, libretto by Camille Du Locle and Alfred Blau

Cast (Théâtre royal de la Monnaie, 7 January 1884): Sigurd (tenor, Jourdain); Hagen (tenor, Gresse); Gunther (baritone, Devriès); high priest of Odin (baritone, Renaud); Attila's envoys: Irnfrid (tenor, Goffoel), Hawart (tenor, Mansuède), Rudiger (baritone, Boussa), Ramunc (bass, Stalport); Brunehild (soprano, Caron); Hilda (soprano, Bosnian); Uta (mezzo‐soprano, Deschamps); Burgundian warriors and people, wives of the warriors, Icelandic people; servants of Brunehild and Hilda.


Act I.

The great hall of Gunther's castle at Worms. While the warriors' wives anticipate great exploits from the Burgundian King Gunther, his sister Hilda confides a troubling dream to the old nurse Uta: in it she nourishes and protects a young kite, but a vicious eagle tears it to pieces. Uta interprets the kite as a noble husband for Hilda and the eagle as a rival who will slaughter him. Ever (p.500) since her rescue from the clutches of an enemy by a hero named Sigurd, Hilda has foresworn love, even repelling an offer of marriage from Attila. Uta now reveals that through magic she has caused Sigurd to think of visiting Gunther's castle and, moreover, that she has prepared a philtre that will cause him to fall rapturously in love with Hilda. Gunther appears with a large entourage, including his companion‐at‐arms Hagen and envoys from Attila, and plans his next exploit. A bard sings of the adventure that lies ahead for Gunther and Hagen: Odin had once expelled a virgin valkyrie named Brunehild from paradise; she now sleeps in a palace with flaming walls surrounded by spirits and terrifying monsters; the warrior brave enough to awaken the valkyrie will have earned her as his bride. After listening to the legend of Brunehild, Attila's envoys announce their departure and reiterate their king's offer of marriage. Gunther defends his sister's decision to remain a virgin in his castle and invites the envoys for a final cup of mead. Before they finish, Sigurd's arrival is announced. At first the great hero assumes a defiant stance by declaring that he too intends to awaken Brunehild, but after Gunther issues much effusive praise for Sigurd's past deeds they exchange an oath of friendship. Hilda offers a cup of Uta's philtre to Sigurd. While it is taking effect, the envoys give Hilda a bracelet from Attila which, when returned to him, will function as a sign that she is in danger. Sure enough, Sigurd becomes enamoured of Hilda and now offers to accompany Gunther and Hagen on their quest for Brunehild, in return for a prize of his choosing.

Act II.

Iceland; a sacred forest by the sea. The high priest prepares a sacrifice to Fréja, goddess of love. Sigurd, Gunther, and Hagen come upon the ceremony and announce their intention. Priests try to warn them away by predicting that the spirits will surely distribute their dismembered limbs all over the sacred forest. Confronted by the determination of the trio, the high priest informs them that one man—strong, pure, and a virgin—has potential to succeed, and this only by sounding the sacred horn of Odin. Sigurd asks that the horn be brought to them. He immodestly tells Gunther and Hagen that the decrees of Odin seem to have designated him for the deed. He offers to assume Gunther's appearance by wearing his helmet and to guide Brunehild into his arms. Hagen remains sceptical about the haughty Sigurd's chances for success but Gunther agrees to the plan. The high priest ceremoniously hands over the sacred horn to Sigurd.

A field of death, strewn here and there with Druid statuary; a lake bordered by ghoulish‐looking trees is nearby. Sigurd summons his courage, drawing sustenance from thoughts of Hilda. He blows the horn: the sky darkens, thunder rumbles. Three norns appear at the edge of the lake and gesture towards a funeral shroud that they make clear will be his. As he attempts to sound the horn a second time, a group of armed valkyries tries to wrest it away. He battles them and then faces a cloud of phantoms and elves. After he manages to blow the horn again, several (p.501) nixes attempt unsuccessfully to seduce him. The norns direct him towards the lake, which is now boiling and emitting flames; Brunehild's palace rises up in the conflagration. Sigurd presses on.

A hall in an enchanted palace. Sigurd sets eyes upon Brunehild for the first time. He lowers the visor on his helmet and bids her to rise. The valkyrie awakens, greets the day, and wonders which hero has defied death for her sake. She greets Sigurd‐as‐Gunther like a saviour. As a sign of his fidelity to Gunther, Sigurd places his sword between them and lies outstretched beside her, bidding the spirits to transport them back to the palace in Worms.

The magic palace sinks into the lake and the bed which carries Brunehild and Sigurd turns into a crystal boat pulled by the three norns, who have become transformed into swans; a gentle light now envelops the scene.

Act III.

A garden inside Gunther's castle. An invisible chorus directs Gunther, who appears in a dream‐like state, to wait in his garden. Hilda and Uta watch the ensuing scene in hiding. As dawn begins to break, Gunther sees Sigurd accompany the sleeping Brunehild to his castle and then quickly leave. At first confused about her surroundings, Brunehild accepts Gunther as her husband. Hilda is overjoyed that Sigurd has braved the terrors of Iceland to earn her hand, but Uta warns her to keep what they have just witnessed to themselves.

A large terrace in front of Gunther's palace; the Rhine in the background. The people of the land pass by the castle as they head off to a day's labour. They are called to attention by a fanfare and Hagen's announcement that Brunehild will become queen. Hilda arrives to pay her compliments to the valkyrie and various offerings are made. After a brief balletic entertainment, Sigurd officially requests Hilda as his reward for the journey to Iceland. Gunther asks Brunehild to join their two hands. She shudders as she touches Sigurd; thunder briefly sounds; Uta sees a black future. But the festivities continue.

Act IV.

A terrace of Gunther's castle; to the left a staircase from the queens room; to the right a fountain. Serving girls at the fountain comment on the glum disposition of Brunehild. They part just as her solemn figure is spotted. The queen sings of her discomfort, a poison in her veins, and is haunted by the memory of Sigurd whom she had helped many years before, only to be banished to the flaming castle for her efforts. Hilda joins the queen and taunts her about such a sombre mien; she notices Brunehild's nervous reaction when Sigurd's name is mentioned. Fired by jealousy, Hilda shows Brunehild a belt that Sigurd had given her. Brunehild recognizes it as her own, offered to her saviour in Iceland. It becomes clear that Sigurd effected the rescue. Hilda warns her to forget about the hero and insists that she is the one he truly loves. Just as Gunther and Hagen set off for a hunt, Brunehild confronts them with her knowledge, vowing that either Sigurd or Gunther will be entombed by night's end. Hilda confesses to her (p.502) brother that she revealed the secret, but blames Sigurd for telling it to her. Hagen argues that Sigurd's indiscretion is reason enough to execute him and that there is cause to believe that Sigurd loves the queen. With Gunther and Hagen in hiding, their erstwhile companion in adventure apostrophizes Brunehild. She hears Sigurd and leads him to the fountain to perform a ritual purification. As a result, the effect of Uta's philtre wears off; Sigurd now fully accepts Brunehild as his predestined bride. Despite the flash of a blade in the darkness the two sine ecstatically of their future together. Gunther and Hagen follow Sigurd as he leaves. Brunehild and Hilda both realize he will die; the latter wishes for nothing else, but soon promises to take revenge for losing her husband. At the very moment Sigurd is struck down in the neighbouring woods, Brunehild falters and feels a blade as well. Gunther orders the erection of a funeral pyre and Brunehild joins Sigurd in the flames. Hilda gives her bracelet to Uta with instructions to take it to Attila as quickly as possible.

Apotheosis: Sigurd and Brunehild rise up slowly on a rainbow towards the paradise of Odin that has opened for them. Beneath the vapours Attila leans on his sword as he surveys the carnage of Burgundian soldiers.

ThaÏs, comédie lyrique (follows revised version of 1898)

Jules Massenet, libretto by Louis Gallet, after the eponymous novel by Anatole France

Cast (Opéra, 16 March 1894): Nicias (tenor, Alvarez); AthanaËl (baritone, Delmas); Palémon (bass, Delpouget); ThaÏs (soprano, Sanderson); Crobyle (soprano, Marcy); Myrtale (mezzo‐soprano, Héglon); Albine (mezzo‐soprano, Beauvais); Cenobite monks, histrions and actresses, philosophers, people of Alexandria, holy sisters.


Act I.

The ThébaÏde; huts of the Cénobite monks. Palémon and twelve other monks sit down for a humble evening meal. AthanaËl soon takes his place, exhausted and disillusioned. He explains his distress that Alexandria has fallen to vice and scandal under the influence of the famous courtesan ThaÏs, whom he once knew but resisted. The monks retire for the night and AthanaËl falls asleep, haunted by images of ThaÏs: he dreams of her as a half‐naked Venus miming for a crowd of spectators. Starting abruptly from his sleep, he calls for the other brothers in great agitation. His sacred mission has suddenly been revealed to him: he must go to Alexandria to claim ThaÏs for God.

Alexandria; the splendid terrace of Nicias's house overlooking the city. While AthanaËl waits on the terrace to be introduced to his former friend Nicias, he looks down upon Alexandria with a mixture of nostalgia and hatred. Nicias (p.503) greets him jovially but expresses scepticism about the monk's chances of winning over ThaÏs, who, as it happens, is now his mistress. A great banquet will be held for the courtesan that very night and in order to enable AthanaËl to attend, Nicias instructs two pretty slave girls, Crobyle and Myrtale, to make him up appropriately. ThaÏs arrives surrounded by admirers and reminds Nicias that they have but one night left together. She notices AthanaËl, laughs when Nicias informs her about his purpose, and defiantly dares AthanaËl to try a conversion at her own house.

Act II.

Thau's residence; a statue of Venus in the foreground; opulent surroundings. Alone, ThaÏs reflects upon the emptiness of her life and, looking into her mirror, realizes that her beauty is ephemeral (‘Dis‐moi que je suis belle’). AthanaËl presents himself: ignoring her ironic remarks, he describes the eternal happiness that awaits her should she accept God in her heart. The courtesan, much troubled by the monk's exalted delivery, invokes Venus. AthanaËl wavers briefly from his purpose, but in a bold gesture tears open his luxurious society garment to reveal monk's robes. Fearing that he intends to kill her, she cries out for mercy. After Nicias's voice is heard in the distance, ThaÏs is torn by contradictory sentiments and rebuffs AthanaËl. He declares that he will wait on her doorstep all night while she contemplates what he has proposed. (The curtain falls during an orchestral interlude that depicts the courtesan's meditations.)

A public square before ThaÏs's house. ThaÏs approaches AthanaËl and confesses that after many tears and prayers she has seen the light. He tells ThaÏs that he intends to lead her to an abbey headed by Mother Albine where she will be able to come closer to God. But first she is to destroy all the material trappings of her previous existence, including a little statue of Eros that she insists on keeping. Nicias appears with a large group of followers and sets about to celebrate his considerable winnings from a night of gambling. During the ensuing ballet Crobyle and Myrtale invoke an allegorical figure of beauty. When AthanaËl steps from the house, the assembled populace mocks him for his foolish ambition; it quickly changes tone as ThaÏs follows in a simple wool smock. She has set fire to her dwelling: while flames slowly engulf her former life, the angry crowd demands to have ThaÏs the courtesan back. Nicias appeases them by liberally distributing gold coins.

Act III.

A desert oasis. On their long journey to the abbey ThaÏs wishes to stop. Although he wants her to continue as penance for a soiled past, AthanaËl softens when he sees her bloody feet. While he ministers to her needs, pain and inner joy combine to give ThaÏs a transfigured appearance. Albine and a group of sisters approach. AthanaËl gives ThaÏs over to their care, but is clearly shaken by the prospect of never seeing her again.

(p.504) The ThébaÏde. Dispirited, AthanaËl has refused ail food since his return. He confesses to Palémon that after having accomplished his sacred duty, he became troubled by temptation of the flesh. When he falls asleep, seductive images of ThaÏs appear once again, but now another vision is folded into his dreams: he sees ThaÏs on the brink of death in the garden of the abbey. He awakens with a strong will to join ThaÏs and dashes off into the stormy night.

The garden of Albine's abbey. ThaÏs is indeed dying. Pale and weary, the monk has made the journey to the abbey, not to give her a final blessing, as Albine expects, but tormented by desire. As the sisters back away, AthanaËl tries to persuade ThaÏs of his love. But she can scarcely hear him as, in a mystical ecstasy, she strains towards the arms of God she imagines are open for her. ThaÏs dies and, utterly broken by his unrequited desire, AthanaËl collapses beside her.

Werther, drame lyrique

Jules Massenet, libretto by édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann, after Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

Cast (Vienna Court Opera, 16 February 1892): Werther (tenor, Van Dyck); Albert (baritone, Neidl); le Bailli [the magistrate] (baritone, Mayerhofer); Schmidt (tenor); Johann (baritone); Sophie (soprano, Forster); Charlotte (mezzo‐soprano, Renard); children (children's voices).


Act I.

The house of le Bailli; to the right a garden; a fountain in the foreground. Incongruously for the season, the Bailli rehearses a Christmas carol with six of his youngest children, encouraging them to sing well in order later to please their older sister Charlotte. Schmidt and Johann, two intimates of the household, arrive with news of the ball to take place that evening, to which a certain Werther has been invited. They also comment on how Albert, Charlotte's fiancé now away on a business trip, will make a perfect husband. Once Schmidt and Johann have passed through and other members of the Bailli's household have distanced themselves, Werther appears on the scene marvelling at nature's glory and tranquillity in the garden (‘Ô nature, pleine de grâce’). The children enter again and eagerly run towards Charlotte. After he admires her at a distance for a moment, Werther is introduced to Charlotte and the two leave together for the ball. While they are away, Albert returns unexpectedly. Charlotte's sister Sophie welcomes him with comforting words that he has been missed. As night falls, he leaves. Charlotte and Werther return arm in arm in full moonlight. Werther responds to her warning that they must separate with a passionate declaration of love. Charlotte seems moved but suddenly the voice of the Bailli resounds in the night with the news that Albert has returned. She explains her mother's deathbed directive to marry Albert. Werther painfully recognizes her resolve.

(p.505) Act II.

A public square in Wetzlar; Sunday. Seated at a tavern table, Schmidt and Johann watch the passers‐by on their way to church to celebrate the Pastor's fiftieth wedding anniversary. Albert and Charlotte, now married for three months, are among them. After all have entered, Werther appears in a state of febrile ardour (‘J'aurais sur ma poitrine’). Albert absents himself from the ceremony and attempts to comfort his friend, even suggesting Sophie as a possible mate for Werther. His efforts are futile. Soon, Charlotte herself leaves church. She greets Werther's advances coldly and requests that he not return until Christmas. Alone, Werther gives voice to complete despondency (‘Lorsque l'enfant revient’). When Sophie attempts to cheer him, Werther tells her that he must leave instantly. As a religious cortège crosses the square, Albert reappears, now fully realizing that Werther is in love with his wife.

Act III.

The sitting room of Albert's residence; Christmas Eve. Charlotte sadly rereads some of the letters that Werther has sent. She breaks down in tears when Sophie tries to improve her spirits (‘Va! laisse‐les couler!’) and then issues a heartfelt entreaty to the Lord (‘Seigneur Dieu! Seigneur!’). Suddenly she sees Werther standing at the doorway, trembling and dishevelled. He evokes some of their past moments together and, finding a manuscript with verses by Ossian that he had begun to translate, rereads these to her (‘Pourquoi me réveiller, Ô souffle du printemps’). Charlotte becomes ever more agitated as she tries to supress her feelings. With a mighty effort she breaks away from his embrace. Werther staggers out the door with an ominous prediction of his demise. Albert, aware of Werther's return, begins to question his wife. At that moment a servant appears with a message from Werther requesting Albert's pistols for a long journey. Seeming to understand the significance of the metaphor, Albert cruelly instructs Charlotte to hand over the guns. After her husband returns to his room, she dons a cape and rushes out to save Werther.

Act IV.

A view of Wetzlar on Christmas Eve; full moon and light snow (orchestra).

Werther's study. Charlotte enters breathlessly and sees Werther sprawled on the ground, with bloodied chest and pistol at his side. When he tells her that it is too late to save him, she finally confesses her love. Werther dies peacefully in Charlotte's arms while, in the distance, Sophie and the children are heard singing the Christmas carol heard at the beginning of the opera.