Fortunio (opera)

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Fortunio is a comédie lyrique or opera in 4 Acts and 5 tableaux by composer André Messager. The French language libretto by Gaston Arman de Caillavet and Robert de Flers is based on Alfred de Musset's comedy Le Chandelier.[1] The opera has no spoken dialogue and comprises completely sung recitative and arias. Fortunio, a clerk of the lawyer Maitre André, becomes the decoy for an affair between Jacqueline and the Captain Clavaroche. Fortunio however, falls for Jacqueline's charms before discovering what is going on between her and the officer.

Performance history[edit]

Fortunio was premiered on 5 June 1907 by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart in Paris. The composer conducted, and Albert Carré was the stage director. It was revived at the Opéra-Comique during its first 50 years for over 70 performances, with the composer conducting the runs in 1915 and 1920, and Villette singing Gertrude up to 1946.[2]

Fortunio's success came just a few months after Messager had left his post as director of the Royal Opera House in London, and late in 1907 he was invited to assume the post of co-music director of the Paris Opera with Leimistin Broussan.

Fortunio was produced at La Monnaie in Brussels in 1908 and 1931.[3] The opera was mounted in Bordeaux in November 1984 and Lyons in May 1987. It had its UK premiere in 2001 at Grange Park Opera. A co-production between Fribourg, Besançon and Opéra de Dijon was seen in 2008. The Opéra-Comique mounted six performances of a new production in December 2009, conducted by Louis Langrée.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast,[4] 5 June 1907
(Conductor: André Messager)
Fortunio tenor Fernand Francell
Jacqueline, wife of Maître André soprano Marguerite Giraud-Carré
Landry baritone Jean Périer
Guillaume bass Gustave Huberdeau
Madelon, a servant soprano Béatrice La Palme
Maître André baritone Lucien Fugère
Clavaroche, a captain baritone Hector Dufranne
Gertrude, a servant soprano Marguerite Villette
Maître Subtil tenor Maurice Cazeneuve
Lieutenant de Verbois baritone Paul Guillamat
Lieutenant d'Azincourt tenor Georges de Poumayrac
Chorus: Townspeople, clerks, soldiers


Act 1[edit]

On the square outside the church, games of boules are in progress. Landry, the clerk of Maître André toasts his master, a fine lawyer and husband of the young and beautiful Jacqueline. Maître Subtil passes by with his nephew Fortunio for whom he has just obtained a position with his colleague. Landry, Fortunio's older cousin, gives advice for his new career, but Fortunio, shy and dreamy, doesn't listen. A regiment enters, headed by its new captain, the dashing Clavaroche, who asks about potential female conquests. Discovering the Jacqueline is not available, he naturally decides that he will try to seduce her, and shortly sees her leaving the church. He gains the confidence of her husband, impressed by his uniform, which will open the doors of André's house. Fortunio too has been enraptured by the sight of Jacqueline and pours out his emotion as the curtain falls.

Act 2[edit]

Next morning, Maître André awakens his wife, alarmed: one of his clerks saw a man enter at night through the window in her room. To divert her husband, Jacqueline, in tears, while rejecting the charge, accuses her husband of neglecting her. Maître André sheepishly leaves and Clavaroche clambers out of the cupboard where had been hiding. The problem requires a solution in the form of a 'chandelier': something to attract suspicion, while leaving the true lover concealed. The 'chandelier' is found: Fortunio, whom Jacqueline spies through the window. When the clerks pay their morning respects to her she gets him to serve her - but the devoted response of the young man affects Jacqueline.

Act 3[edit]

Learning that Guillaume had seen a man sneaking into Jacqueline's bedroom, Fortunio dreams of being the protector of her affairs of the heart. This only provokes jeers from the other clerks, but Fortunio doesn't care: he prefers his dreams to harsh reality. With the 'chandelier' now in place, Clavaroche is able to cuckold Maître André with ease. At a dinner for four (the wife, husband, lover and the innocent admirer), Fortunio opens his heart in a song[5] whose beauty and innocence eventually wins over Jacqueline, who takes him in her arms. A moment later, over-hearing the conversation between Clavaroche and Jacqueline, Fortunio understands the role he is playing.

Act 4[edit]

Having learnt that Maître André has laid a trap for his wife's lover, Clavaroche has pointed the finger of suspicion at Fortunio by sending the young man a note, supposedly from Jacqueline, inviting him to join her. To counter the threat, Jacqueline has sent her maid Madelon to warn the young man, but it is too late; Fortunio enters the lion's den. However, Jacqueline tells him: he is not just loved, he is adored! As the footsteps of Maître André and Clavaroche approach, she hides the young man, but not in the same place as her military lover. So the jealous husband has to apologize for his unwarranted suspicions, and the captain finds no one hiding in the wardrobe; she sends both away. She hands the vexed Clavaroche a candlestick to light his way - innocence has triumphed.


John Eliot Gardiner conducted a complete recording for Erato in 1987 with Colette Alliot-Lugaz, Michel Trempont and Thierry Dran. In 1961 French EMI recorded excerpts with Liliane Berton, Michel Sénéchal, Michel Dens and Jean-Christophe Benoît.[6]


  1. ^ In French a chandelier can mean a decoy for a love affair.
  2. ^ Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900-1950). André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  3. ^ 'Computerised Archival Retrieval in Multimedia Enhanced Networking' - The digital opera archives of La Monnaie. accessed 26 March 2010.
  4. ^ Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Fortunio, 5 June 1907". Almanacco Amadeus (Italian).
  5. ^ Jacques Offenbach set Fortunio's song from Act II Scene III of the play in 1850 when he was Music Director at the Comédie-Française, and in 1861 composed an operetta around it.
  6. ^ OCLC 34378542

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