Le bourgeois de Calais

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Le bourgeois de Calais is an opéra comique in three acts of 1887, with music by André Messager and a French libretto by Ernest Dubreuil, Paul Burani.[1]

It was first performed at the Théâtre des Folies-Dramatiques on 6 April 1887 and, despite the praise for Messager’s music, ran only for 17 performances. Le bourgeois de Calais has parallels with the contemporary French feelings towards loss of Alsace and Lorraine.[2]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 6 April 1887
(Conductor: D Thibault)
Le duc de Guise baritone Morlet
Lord Tréfort tenor Gobin
André baritone Dechesne
Maître Aubriet bass Bellucci
Chevalier de Champagnolles tenor A Guyon
Kerkadec baritone Lauret
Mitonnet baritone Duhamel
Un sergent tenor Speck
D’Andelot Milot
Comtesse de Civrac mezzo-soprano Juliette Darcourt
Marthe soprano Lydie Borel
René tenor Fanzi
Chorus: Servants, Soldiers, Townspeople.


The opera is set in January 1558.
Henri II recalls the Duc de Guise from Italy and makes him Lieutenant General of the kingdom. The king and all France see de Guise as their protector - and he must live up this hope. On January 1st 1558, the French army reaches Calais. The English garrison is weak. Two forts guard the city approaches, one by sea, one by land; they are captured at the same time on January 3rd after a few canon shots. The sea fortress, Risbanc, commanded the port and all communication between Calais and England. On January 6th the Duc de Guise and his men cross the harbour at low tide and lay siege to the castle, Guise leaving there his best men. When the tide comes in, breaking the lines between the castle and the French army, the English try to retake the fort but are repulsed. The governor of Calais surrenders the town the day after. The English citizens are allowed to leave without their possessions. The town is French again after 210 years of English occupation.

By disguising himself in the clothes of the sailor André (fiancé of Marthe, daughter of Aubriet, an alderman of Calais), de Guise can enter the square and bring in his troops right under the nose of the English governor Lord Tréfort. In a subplot, the Comtesse believes – after a prophecy in Nostradamus - she may become the Duchess de Guise, while André thinks he has been duped by the Duke.

Of Messager’s score, contemporary writers particularly noted the quartet "Vous avez dans mon ame", the military finale of the first act, the introduction to the second, the scene of the swearing of allegiance, the couplets "C’est une merveilleuse idée", the third act romance "Je vais errant a l’aventure" and the comic song "L'Anglais, premier people du monde".[2]


  1. ^ Wagstaff J. André Messager. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  2. ^ a b Noel E & Stoullig E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 11eme edition, 1885. G Charpentier et Cie, Paris, 1886.