Le pré aux clercs

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Le pré aux clercs (The Clerks' Meadow) is an opéra comique in three acts by Ferdinand Hérold with a libretto by François-Antoine-Eugène de Planard based on Prosper Mérimée's Chronique du temps de Charles IX of 1829.[1]

Performance history[edit]

Le pré aux clercs was premiered in Paris by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse on 15 December 1832. However, after the first performance Madame Casimir refused - possibly demanding more money - to sing in the subsequent performances, and Mlle Dorus of the Opéra was coached by Hérold over five days to take over the role of Isabelle. Pougin claims that this incident exacerbated the composer's ill-health, leading to his death five weeks after the premiere.[1]

The opera, Hérold's last completed one, was very successful, inaugurating the new Salle Favart in 1840, and enjoying some 1,000 performances up to 1871, and reaching its 1,600th at the Opéra-Comique by 1949.[2]

Though rarely performed in recent years, a studio production conducted by José Serebrier was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in 1987, with Carole Farley and John Aler among the cast.[3]

The opera was performed at the Paris Opéra-Comique in March 2015, directed by Éric Ruf, with the Gulbenkian Orchestra conducted by Paul McCreesh,[4] in a co-production with the Wexford Festival Opera, where it was conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud as part of the 2015 festival,[5] and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3.[6] The performance by McCreesh was recorded in April 2015 at the Grande Auditório of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon for release on two CDs.

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 15 December 1832
(Conductor:Henri Valentino[7])[8]
Marguerite de Valois soprano Marie-Sophie Carrault-Ponchard
Isabelle Montal (a young Béarnaise countess) soprano Alphonsine-Virginie-Marie Dubois ('Mme. Casimir')
Nicette (betrothed to Girot) soprano Marie Massy
Baron de Mergy tenor Étienne-Bernard-Auguste Thénard
Comte de Comminges tenor Louis-Augustin Lemonnier
Cantarelli tenor Louis Féréol
Girot (host of the 'Pré aux clercs') baritone Fargueil
Un exempt du guet (detective) bass Génot
Three archers
An officer
Chorus: Guards, officers, light horsemen, courtiers, archers, masques, people, dancers.

Synopsis[edit]

The action takes place in Étampes, then in Paris at the Palais du Louvre and the grounds of the 'Pré aux clercs', in 1572, around the time of the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre.

Act 1[edit]

The opera opens at Nicette’s country inn where festivities anticipate the wedding of Nicette (the god-daughter of Marguerite) and Girot, the host of the famous Pré-aux-Clercs in Paris – known both for lovers’ rendez-vous and for duels. Marguerite, wife of Henry IV, king of Navarre, and sister to Henry III, king of France, while detained at the Louvre as a hostage of peace between the two sovereigns, has been accompanied by Isabelle de Montal, a Béarnaise countess. The King of Navarre sends as envoy the Baron de Mergy, a young Béarnaise gentleman, to recall his Queen and her lady-in-waiting Isabelle. Resting after his arrival at Étampes, near Paris, Mergy meets Cantarelli, an Italian, the director of the court festivities and deportment tutor to Isabelle, who informs Mergy of the news from the court concerning Isabelle. The rough swordsman Comminge, a colonel and royal favourite also arrives, angry at having been kept away from the royal hunt by a challenge to a duel from a young man, whom he had killed. Next Marguerite and Isabelle, having been with the royal hunting party in the forest, come to visit Nicette. The Queen expresses her concerns for Isabelle's unhappiness and rejection of suitors at court. Isabelle responds that she wishes to return home; Marguerite however informs her of the plans to marry Isabelle to Comminge. When Isabelle reacts to this news, Mergy comes to her and the lovers embrace; their emotion causes suspicion in Comminge, to whom Mergy is introduced as Henri III's messenger. Marguerite invites Nicette to the Louvre to claim her dowry.

Act 2[edit]

Isabelle sings of her love for Mergy (“Jours de mon enfance”). Marguerite meanwhile is plotting with Nicette and Cantarelli to marry Isabelle to Mergy in secret and secure their flight to Navarre. The marriage is fixed to take place at the chapel of the Pré-aux-Clercs, simultaneously with that of Nicette and Girot. Cantarelli is blackmailed into assisting them by means of an incriminating letter. During the masked ball Cantarelli will bring Mergy to Marguerite’s chambers whence they will flee to a country church. However Comminge’s suspicions bring him to confront Cantarelli whom he threatens if he discovers a conspiracy to rob him of Isabelle. Comminge is misled by Cantarelli into believing the love intrigue is between Mergy and Marguerite. Now a message arrives refusing Isabelle’s departure with Marguerite – the countess must marry Comminge, and Mergy is ordered to return. Mergy, slighted by an offer from Comminge to assist him in meeting the Queen, challenges the colonel to a duel at dawn at the Pré-aux-Clercs. Nonetheless the curtain falls with some hope for the young lovers as Nicette informs Mergy that Marguerite is resolute in her plans for them to wed after Nicette and Girot.

Act 3[edit]

The wedding festivities for Nicette and Girot are under way and at the chapel Mergy and Isabelle are secretly wed. Cantarelli arrives with passports for the pair’s escape then leaves to act as second for Comminge’s duel with Mergy. During the duel Comminge learns that it is Isabelle whom Mergy loves, not Marguerite, and the discovery that they are in fact wed makes the colonel even more furious. Comminge falls and his body is put on a boat to be taken to Chaillot to be received by the monks. Cantarelli comes to announce the result of the duel, as the boat passes, and all believe Mergy to be dead. However, the joy of his victory joins with that of the wedding celebration and Isabelle and Mergy flee to Navarre with Cantarelli as their guide.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pougin A. Hérold, biographie critique illustrée. Henri Laurens, Paris, 1906.
  2. ^ Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900-1950). André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  3. ^ Jacobs, A. On Radio - review. Opera, November 1987, 1338.
  4. ^ Blanmont, Nicolas. Report from Paris, France. Opera, July 2015, Vol 66 No. 7, p859-60.
  5. ^ Wheatcroft, Geoffrey. Report from 2015 Wexford Festival. Opera, January 2016, Vol 67 No. 1, p54-58.
  6. ^ "Afternoon on 3: 26 November 2015". BBC. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  7. ^ Pougin 1880; Chouquet 1889.
  8. ^ Violin solos were played by Javault, a pupil of Pierre Baillot.

Bibliography[edit]