Polyeucte is an opéra by Charles Gounod based on the play about Saint Polyeuctus by Pierre Corneille. The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré is more faithful to its source than Les martyrs, Scribe's adaptation for Donizetti, Gounod hoped to express "the unknown and irresistible powers that Christianity has spread among humanity"; the subject had occupied Gounod for some ten years. An initial delay was caused by a fire which destroyed the theatre of the Paris Opéra, the Salle Le Peletier, in October 1873. Further delay came about because the first draft remained in the hands of the jealous Georgina Weldon when Gounod left England in 1874 to return to Paris, he had to resort to a lawsuit before resigning himself to recomposing the work from memory, although towards the end of that endeavor, Weldon did return it. The opera premiered at the Opéra's new house, the Palais Garnier on 7 October 1878, in stage sets designed by Jean Émile Daran, Louis Chéret, Auguste Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon, Eugène Louis Carpezat and Antoine Lavastre, Jean-Baptiste Lavastre.
Despite the splendid staging, the premiere was a failure – "the sorrow of my life", noted Gounod – and closed after 29 performances. Polyeucte's aria "Source délicieuse" is sometimes heard in concert. A 2004 co-production by Jean-Louis Pichon was seen that year in Martina Franca in 2006 in Saint-Etienne conducted by Laurent Campellone and Jean-Pierre Furlan in the title role. Place: Melitene, the capital of ancient Armenia Time: 3rd century ADThe subject is taken from Corneille's tragedy; the story, has here been somewhat differently treated. Félix, Proconsul of Armenia, has a daughter Pauline, at one time sought in marriage by the Roman general Sévère. Circumstances divided them, Pauline gave her heart to Polyeucte, an Armenian Prince. At the opening the Christian faith is being propagated in Melitene, Polyeucte has listened with a willing ear to the teachings of the new creed; the converts are subject to persecution, a butchering is anticipated, when Sévère, approaching Melitene, after a successful campaign, enters in triumph.
Pauline's chamber, with its private altar and its "household gods" Pauline and her servants, Stratonice at their head, are in the room, while the mistress meditates before the altar. In answer to Stratonice, Pauline explains her melancholy by reference to a dream presaging evil. However, he comes back, looking sad and oppressed, his wife, demanding the reason, learns that certain Christians are doomed to death on the morrow. Pauline attempts to justify the sacrifice, but Polyeucte in return so manifests his sympathy with the victims, that her worst anticipations are realised, she makes a passionate appeal, when Polyeucte reassures her, speaks of the coming of Sévère, in whose honour the Christians are to perish. Pauline thought Sévère to be dead, explains to her husband the relation in which they stood, but Polyeucte has no fear of the meeting. A public place in Melitene An enthusiastic crowd awaits the victorious general, welcomed by Félix. Sévère assures the governor that he has brought with him fond remembrances, but Pauline at once defines the actual situation by introducing Polyeucte as her husband.
The blow strikes home, all present notice the agitation it causes. A garden and a temple of Vesta Sévère appears, despising his glory, since he cannot lay it at Pauline's feet, he observes the approach of Pauline, stands aside, the heroine enters, kneels down, prays, in the course of her prayer reveals that she had wedded Polyeucte in obedience to the wishes of her father. When therefore she rises, he confronts her, reproaches her with having accepted a "detested spouse." Pauline denies it. Once more the love-lorn warrior falls into despair, she demands why he had come to trouble her. Sévère invokes the goddess to witness their past love, calls upon his companion to carry her prayers to the feet of Vesta. Pauline accepts the challenge, beseeching that the broken heart of Sévère might be healed, that he himself might become the saviour of her husband. To the astonished exclamation of the soldier she replies that Polyeucte is in danger, that she confides in him to preserve his life. Another appeal follows, this time with instant success.
The interview over, Pauline retires to the temple, but Sévère remains, presently again concealing himself as Polyeucte enters, accompanied by the Christian Néarque. The Prince, seeing Pauline in the temple, is inclined to linger, but Néarque urges him away, Sévère hears all. A private spot in the midst of rocks and trees Polyeucte becomes a Christian. In a hall of the palace Polyeucte, Félix, Sévère, Albin, High Priest of Jupiter, are present, they begin to talk upon whom Félix calls for vengeance. On this Félix bids all to repair to the temple of Jupiter, but Sévère warns him that noble heads may have to fall; the Governor demands the convert's name, not obtaining it, declares that he will condemn the whole family to death, should they turn from the orthodox creed. Sévère urges Polyeucte to guard his own life for the sake of those he loved, but the convert professes himself willing to die. Polyeucte is seen in prison. Polyeucte and Pauline appear in the arena; the opera ends. Notes Sources Alexander, Louis.
The Opera-Glass: or, A Clear
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