Hulda is an opera by César Franck to a French libretto by Charles Grandmougin. It is set in 11th-century Norway, and is based on the play Lame Hulda (1858) by Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. The complete opera contains a prologue, three acts and an epilogue.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast (incomplete), 8 March 1894
(Conductor: Léon Jehin)
|Premiere cast (complete), 15 March 1994
(Conductor: David Drummond)
|Hulda Hustawick||mezzo-soprano||Blanche Deschamps-Jéhin||Adele Paxton|
|Hulda’s mother||mezzo-soprano||Mounier||Margaret Maguire|
|Aslak||bass||Joël Maurice Fabre||Deryck Hamon|
|Gudrun, Aslak's wife||mezzo-soprano||Rissler||Helen Lawrence|
|Gudleik, Aslak's eldest son||baritone||Paul Lhérie||Tom McVeigh|
|Halgerde, Aslak's sister||soprano||Marcelle Dartoy||Bridget Barlow|
|Arne, another son of Aslak||bass||David Eliot Crowne|
|Thrond, younger son of Aslak||baritone||Justin Joseph|
|Eyric, younger son of Aslak||tenor||Desgoria||Alan Rankin Crooks|
|Eynar, younger son of Aslak||tenor||Signa||Daniel Meades|
|Gunnard, Halgerde’s son||tenor||Borie||Jon Stoughton|
|Thordis, Gunnard’s fiancée||soprano||Jane Webster|
|Eiolf, a gentleman||tenor||Albert Saléza||Julian Gavin|
|Swanhilde, rejected by Eiolf||soprano||Emma d'Alba||Helen Kucharek|
|Nobles, peasants, warriors|
The story tells how Hulda seeks revenge on Aslak and his clan, who killed her family. The subject depicts a young woman as a victim, her faith in nature, her destiny, and women’s suffering at the hands of men.
In the Prologue, after a prelude depicting the wind and sea, Hulda and her mother, singing a prayer duet, await the return of their menfolk from hunting. After an off-stage chorus of fishermen (accompanied by four saxophones), the Aslak men celebrate their murder of the Hustawicks, and Gudleik declares his lust for in Hulda, who responds with a curse (an ‘oath’ motif), and vows revenge on his family. A chorus of victory for the Aslaks contains a three chord ‘death’ motif which will recur when they themselves meet their deaths.
Two years on, Hulda is to be married to Gudleik, and Gunnard is to marry Thordis. After a haunting A minor women’s chorus and the brighter entrance of Swanhilde, Gudleik and his brothers are heard arguing over Hulda, until Gudrun forces them – in an aria with typically Franckian chromatic harmonies – to show more respect. Hulda has seen Eiolf, an emissary of the Norwegian king (who has rejected Swanhilde) and is infatuated by him. The wedding party assembles but soon Eiolf arrives and during a traditional show of manliness and courage by the men, Eiolf and Gudleik fight, resulting in the death of Gudleik in a Verdian-style finale.
After a pastoral prelude, Aslak and Gudrun are seen grieving for Gudleik. At evening time Hulda in a wide-ranging soliloquy, awaits Eiolf, who she sees as a god-sent avenger who has released her from the Aslaks and the duty of her vengeance. After a passionate duet in which Hulda makes Eiolf promise to return with her to her homeland, he leaves her for the night and Arne, one of Aslak’s sons enters and declares his love for Hulda. Old Aslak sees a man making love to Hulda, and kills him – only discovering after that he has killed his own son, and Hulda’s curse has claimed a second victim.
After the long Arctic winter, celebrations and selection of a May queen are set to a waltz-like movement. Swanhilde is still upset by her betrayal by Eiolf, but her friend Thordis promises to re-unite them. When Eiolf enters Swanhilde is cold and cannot conceal her jealousy of Hulda; Eiolf embraces her. Hulda, close at hand, sees his betrayal of her, and she gets the remaining Aslak brothers to help murder Eiolf. They agree to meet the following day. The celebrations of spring resume, in contrast to Hulda’s despair.
After an entr’acte based on the stark music from the beginning of the opera, there follows an evening chorus. The passion of Swanhilde and Eiolf’s reconciliation contrasts sharply with Hulda’s pain. She prepares for revenge: the Aslaks return and Eiolf is struck down. When the brothers then turn on her, she welcomes death and when the men turn away in fear, Hulda throws herself in the fjord.
Hulda was Franck's first opera to be performed, in Monte Carlo, 1894. The influence of Wagner is clear, both in the writing for brass and also in the love duets which are reminiscent of Tristan und Isolde. Franck's writing shows his seriousness of expression and characteristic chromatic harmony.
- Forbes E. Hulda. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997,
- Loewenberg A. Annals of Opera. London, John Calder, 1978.
- Stoullig E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 30eme edition, 1904. Librairie Paul Ollendorff, Paris, 1905, 428-9.
- Drummond D. From Programme Book for University College London 1994 production.
- Amadeus Almanac, accessed 27 October 2009
- Langham Smith R, Potter C. French Music since Berlioz. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006.