La tentation

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La tentation is a "ballet-opera", a hybrid work in which both singers and dancers play major roles. It was premiered in 1832 in its original five-act form by the Paris Opéra at the Salle Le Peletier. Most of the music was by Fromental Halévy, and the libretto was by Edmond Cavé and Henri Duponchel.[1] The choreography was by Jean Coralli, and the decor by a number of hands including Eduard Bertin, Eugène Lami, Camille Roqueplan and Paul Delaroche.[2] After the first 29 performances, mostly separate acts were performed (either the first, second, or fourth) in conjunction with another work, although it was occasionally revived in its entirety in 1833, 1834, and 1835. In all, it was given complete 46 times, and as separate acts on 60 occasions.[3]

Composition history[edit]

The format of La tentation is unusual, with both singers and dancers taking leading roles. The music for the opera sections was written by Halévy; that for the ballet portions by Halévy and Casimir Gide.[4] The director of the Opéra, Louis Véron, wrote in his memoirs that, during the cholera epidemic in Paris;

I wished neither to make use of nor to jeopardize any of the important works of the repertory. We ... busied ourselves with ... rehearsals for La tentation. This five-act fairy tale was merely a series of tableaux, of which the chorus and the corps de ballet were the stars. [These] can always be replaced, and scenery, at least, never falls ill. La tentation ... was thus a work always in readiness for presentation.[5]

The date of the premiere is given by Marian Smith as 12 March 1832;[6] however the printed libretto gives the date 20 June.[7] The music contains several direct quotations from Beethoven, including from his Fifth Symphony (in the act 2 meeting of the demons) and his Pathétique sonata.[8]

On 2 August 1832, Frédéric Chopin wrote to Ferdinand Hiller that "La tentation, an opera-ballet by Halévy and Gide, tempted no-one with any good taste, since it is as dull as your German parliament is out of keeping with the spirit of our century".[9] However, the work was a box-office success and had over 50 performances in its first season,[10] and over 50 performances in the next 6 years,[11] although it does not seem to have been revived since then. The autograph score is in the Bibliothèque de l'Opéra in Paris.[12]


Costume design for Astaroth
Role Role type Premiere cast, 20 June 1832[13]
(Conductor: )
The hermit dancer Joseph Mazilier
Marie, a young pilgrim dancer Pauline Leroux
Hélène, young woman of Iconium soprano Julie Dorus
Mizaël, angel soprano Louise-Zulmé Leroux-Dabadie
Astaroth, king of the demons dancer Louis-Stanislas Montjoie
Miranda, daughter of hell dancer Pauline Duvernay
Anubri, she-devil mezzo-soprano Constance Jawureck
Raca, she-devil dancer Louise Élie
Ditikan, demon dancer François-Louis-Sylvain Simon
Asmodée, demon tenor Alexis Dupont
Drack, demon baritone Ferdinand Prévôt
Bélial, demon tenor Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol
Baal, demon bass Charles-Louis Pouilley[14]
Samiel, demon tenor Hyacinthe-M. Trévaux
Moloc, demon bass Auguste-Hyacinth Hurteaux
Mammon, demon tenor François Wartel
Belzébuth, demon bass Prosper Dérivis
Urian, demon singer M. Sambet
Validé, a favorite of the sultan dancer Lise Noblet
Léila, a favorite of the sultan dancer Pauline Paul Montessu
Amidé, a favorite of the sultan dancer (Odile-Daniel) Julia de Varennes
Effémi, a favorite of the sultan mezzo-soprano Constance Jawureck
Gulliéaz, a favorite of the sultan dancer Mme (Alexis) Dupont
A monster dancer Mlle Keppler[15]
Alaédan, sultan of Iconium dancer Simon Mérante
Act 1: 25 shepherds, demons (all the men), 8 angels, 15 female peasants
Act 2: demons (entire chorus)
Act 3: huntsmen, 3 trumpeters, 4 lords, 20 cooks, 13 angels and pilgrims
Act 4: (entire chorus)
Act 5: (entire chorus)
Part 2: demons (all the men), angels (all the women).
Corps de ballet
Act 1: 2 fiancés, 11 shepherds, 12 peasant women, 4 children
Act 2: 7 Capital Sins, Astaroth's army (14 captains, drum-major, music conductor, 10 gunners, 23 men,13 little he-devils, 36 women, 12 little she-devils)
Act 3: 12 whippers-in, 18 pages of the hunt
Act 4: 40 harem women, 2 matrons, 6 black eunuchs
Act 5: 8 subjects of Astaroth
Part 1: dancing master, fencing master, painter, poet, cook, ogre, she-devil, page, merchant, female magician
Part 2: demons (all the men), angels (all the women).


Act 1[edit]

An oriental desert close to a hermitage

The hermit prays to free himself from temptation; he is apparently struck dead by lightning when lusting after the pilgrim Marie. Whilst angels and demons debate his fate, he revives and flees.

Act 2[edit]

The interior of a volcano

Astaroth and the demons plot a revenge against the hermit. In one of the most popular scenes of the opera,[16] they create the temptress Miranda, who rises (apparently naked) from a cauldron which has previously produced a grisly monster. Miranda is marked by a black spot on her heart. The demons are dispersed by an angel on a meteor.

Act 3[edit]

In a deserted park

The hermit is starving. Astaroth appears with the demoness Miranda to tempt him, offering bread for his cross. However Miranda is moved by the hermit's prayer and kneels; the spot vanishes.

Act 4[edit]

A magnificent harem by the seashore

The hermit is attracted by the beautiful dancers of the harem, who prevent Miranda from joining their revels. The hermit is told that by murdering the Sultan he can take over the harem; but Miranda prevents him.

Act 5[edit]

An oriental desert close to a hermitage

The hermit finds Marie in his hermitage. Miranda joins Marie in prayer, although she has been commanded to seduce the hermit. Astaroth and his legions undertake various diabolic actions, including the murder of Miranda. However, angels take the hermit to heaven.[17]

Costume gallery[edit]



  1. ^ Smith (2003) p. 102, n. 19
  2. ^ Halévy (1832), p. (ii)
  3. ^ Pitou 1990, vol. 3, p. 1310.
  4. ^ Halévy (1832), p. (ii)
  5. ^ cited in Smith (2001), p. 35
  6. ^ Smith (2003) p. 102, n. 19
  7. ^ Halévy (1832), p. (iii). This date is supported by the Almanach des Spectacles de 1831 à 1834, which gives the date as 20 June 1832 on p. 27.
  8. ^ Smith(2001), 38
  9. ^ Chopin Institute website; the year 1832
  10. ^ Smith(2001), 41
  11. ^ Jourdan (1994), 40
  12. ^ Smith (2001), p. 53 n. 20
  13. ^ Smith 2000, p. 155; Lajarte 1878, p. 143; Tamvaco 2000, p. 68; Guest 2008, p. 447 (Simon Mérante).
  14. ^ For the full name see Tamvaco 2000, p. 1286. Tamvaco identifies him as a tenor on p. 1286, but also lists him in the bass role of Moreno in La muette de Portici on p. 87. Gourret 1982, p. 60, confirms that Pouilley was a bass who joined the company in 1809.
  15. ^ Younger sister of the dancer Céleste Elliot-Keppler, who used the stage name "Mlle Céleste" (Tamvaco 2000, p. 1265).
  16. ^ Jordan (1994), pp. 39–40
  17. ^ Halevy (1832), Smith (2001), pp. 35–50


  • Gourret, Jean (1982). Dictionnaire des chanteurs de l'Opéra de Paris. Paris: Albatros. View formats and editions at WorldCat.
  • Guest, Ivor (2008). The Romantic Ballet in Paris. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books. ISBN 9781852731199.
  • Halévy, Fromental et al. (1832), La tentation, Ballet-opéra en 5 actes, Paris. View at Bavarian State Library online.
  • Jourdan, Ruth (1994). Fromental Halévy. London: Kahn and Averill. ISBN 978-1-871082-51-7.
  • Lajarte, Théodore (1878). Bibliothèque musicale du Théâtre de l'Opéra, volume 2 [1793–1876]. Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles. View at Google Books.
  • Pitou, Spire (1983). The Paris Opéra: An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers (3 volumes). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780686460367.
  • Smith, Marian Elizabeth (2000). Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691049946.
  • Smith, Marian (2001), 'Three Hybrid Works at the Paris Opéra, circa 1830' in Dance Chronicle vol. 24 no. 1, pp. 7–53
  • Smith, Marian (2003), 'Dance and Dancers', in The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, ed. D. Charlton, pp. 93–107. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521646833.
  • Tamvaco, Jean-Louis (2000). Les Cancans de l'Opéra. Chroniques de l'Académie Royale de Musique et du théâtre, à Paris sous les deux restorations (2 volumes, in French). Paris: CNRS Editions. ISBN 9782271056856.