Evenings of Great Songs & the Stories Behind Them

Carmen libretto by H. Meilhac and L. Halévy, after the novella by Prosper Mérimée (1847); Paris premiere 1875
    L'amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habañera) Love is a wild bird that cannot be tamed. It is in vain that one calls him if it suits him to refuse. Nothing avails, threat or prayer. One speaks well, the other is silent, and it's the other I prefer. He said nothing, but I like him. Love is free like a gypsy, it has never known any law. If you do not love me, I love you. If I love you, beware! The bird you thought you were capturing fluttered his wings and took flight. When Love is distant, you expect it in vain. When you no longer expect it, it is here! All around you, quickly, it comes, goes away, then returns. When you think you hold it, it evades you. When you think you evade it, it holds you.
    La fleur que tu m'avais jetée The flower you had thrown to me I kept in my prison. Withered and dry, this flower never lost its sweet scent. For hours on end, closing my eyes, with this scent I intoxicated myself and in the night I saw you! I found myself condemning you, detesting you, asking why fate placed you there in my path! Then I accused myself of blasphemy, and only felt one desire, one lone hope: to see you again! For you had only to appear, only to cast me a glance to take possession of all my being, Oh my Carmen! And I belonged to you! Carmen, I love you!
    Les tringles des sistres tintaient The strings of the zithers ring with a metallic din, and this strange music moves the gypsy girls to rise. Spanish tambourines make their clatter, and the furious guitars grate under stubborn hands the same refrain! Tra la la! The rings of copper and silver glitter against their brown skins. In stripes of orange and red their skirts billow in the wind. The dance is married to the song, at first indecisive and timid, then more lively and quick, it rises, rises, rises! Tra la la! The gypsy men, straining their arms, make a rage with their instruments, and this dazzling uproar enchants the gypsy girls. With the rhythm of the song, passionate, crazed, feverish, they let themselves, intoxicated, be carried away by the whirlwind.

Roméo et Juliette libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, after William Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet (1597); Paris premiere 1867
    Ah! Je veux vivre Ah, I want to live in the dream that intoxicates me for a long time yet! Sweet flame, I will keep you in my heart as a treasure! This drunkeness of youth lasts, alas, but a day. Then comes the hour when one weeps, the heart gives in to love, and happiness flees forever. Far from the gloomy winter let me slumber, and breathe the scent of the rose before I pluck its petals. Stay in my heart like a sweet treasure for a long time yet!

Faust libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier, after Michel Carré's Faust et Marguerite (1850) and Goethe's play Faust, Part I (1808); Paris premiere 1859
    Vous qui faites l'endormie You who pretend to be sleeping, do you not hear my voice and my footsteps? Thus your admirer calls you, and your heart trusts him. Ha! ha! ha! Don't open your door, my beauty, except with the ring on your finger! Catherine whom I adore, why refuse the lover who implores you, why refuse so sweet a kiss? Thus your admirer begs you, and your heart trusts him. Don't give a kiss, my dear, except with the ring on your finger!

Werther libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet, Georges Hartmann, after Goethe's novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) (1774); Vienna premiere 1892; Paris premiere 1893
    Charlotte: Our ways divide. This is our house. It's time for sleep.
    Werther: So long as I can see these eyes always open, these eyes my horizon, these sweet eyes, my hope and my only joy, what matters sleep to me? The stars and the sun can reappear in the sky in their turn; I know not if it is day or night! My being remains indifferent to everything but you!
    Charlotte: But you know nothing of me.
    Werther: My soul has recognized yours, Charlotte, and I have seen you enough to know the woman that you are!
    Charlotte: You know me?
    Werther: You are the best as well as the loveliest of all creatures...Do I have to ask those whom you call your children?
    Charlotte: Alas, yes, my children...you have spoken truly, for my mother's image is present to everyone here. And as for me, I seem to see her face smiling when I tend her children...my children. Ah, how I wish she could return to this home and see, if only for a brief while, whether I am keeping the promises I made in her last hour. Dear, dear mother, why can you not see us?
    Werther: Oh Charlotte, angel of duty, may heaven's blessing rest on you!
    Charlotte: If you had known her! The cruelty of seeing the one held most dear leave us that way! What tender memories and what bitter regret! Why must everything perish? The children have felt that very keenly. They often ask, inconsolably, why the men in black took Mama away.
    Werther: Dream! Rapture! Joy! I would give my life to keep forever these eyes, this lovely brow, this adorable mouth, astonished and delighted, without anyone else beholding them for a moment! That celestial smile! Oh, Charlotte, I love you and admire you!
    Charlotte: We are mad! Let us go in!
    Werther: But we'll see each other again?
    Bailiff (Charlotte's father) from within the house: Charlotte! Albert is back!
    Charlotte: Albert!
    Werther: Albert?
    Charlotte: Yes, he whom my mother made me vow to accept as husband. God is my witness that for a moment, with you, I had forgotten that promise.
    Werther: Remain true to that vow, but it will be the death of me, Charlotte!
    Werther: Another her husband!

La Périchole libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, after Prosper Mérimée's play, Le Carosse du Saint-Sacrement; Paris premiere 1868
    Ah! quel diner What a meal I've just had, and what extraordinary wine. I've had so much, I do believe that now I'm a little drunk, but Ssh--no one tell! If my speech is a little unclear, if in walking I zigzag, and if my glance seems a little naughty, it shouldn't be surprising.

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein) libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy; Paris premiere 1867
    J'aime les militaires You love danger, peril attracts you, and you do your duty. You leave tomorrow, and I come to tell you not goodbye but au revoir! Ah, I love the military! Their smart uniforms, their mustaches and their plumes. Their victorious air, their style, everything about them pleases me. When I see my soldiers there, about to leave for the war, steady. straight, eyes fixed ahead, Good God I am proud. Will they be the conquerors or the defeated? I only know what I know. I'd like to run the soldiers' canteen--I'd always be near them. I'd get drunk with them. I'd go, brave and lighthearted, with them to combat and to shoot. That way the war would delight me.

Samson et Dalila libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire, after the Old Testament story (Judges 16); Weimar premiere 1877; New York premiere 1892; French Opera House, New Orleans 1893
    Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix My heart opens to your voice as the flowers open to the kisses of the dawn. But, oh my love, to dry my tears completely let your voice speak again. Say that to Dalila you return forever. Answer my tenderness, pour rapture over me. Like blades of wheat that bend in the gentle wind, my heart trembles, ready to be consoled by your voice so dear to me. The arrow is less rapid in bringing death than is your lover to fly into your arms. Samson, I love you!

Manon libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, after Abbé Prévost's novel L'histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731); Paris premiere 1884
    Des Grieux: It's you!
    Manon: Yes, it's me, it's me.
    Des Grieux: What are you doing here? Go away! Stay away from me.
    Manon: Yes, I was cruel and I am to blame. But remember what a love we had. Ah, in this glance that condemns me, I can see forgiveness one day?
    Des Grieux: I've written in the sand this insane dream of a love that heaven never made to last but for a moment, a day. Ah, treacherous Manon!
    Manon: If I repented, could you have no pity?
    DG: I don't want to believe you. No! You are finally gone from my memory as well as from my heart.
    Manon: Alas, the bird that flees what it believes to be enslavement too often at night returns, desperately beating at the window. Forgive me! I die at your feet. Ah, return your love to me if you want me to live.
    DG: No! My love for you is dead.
    Manon: Is there nothing then that will rekindle it? Listen to me! Remember! Is this not still my hand that presses yours? Is it not my voice? Is it not still for you a caress, as it once was? And these eyes, which once charmed you, don't they still shine through my tears? Am I no longer myself? Do I no longer have my name? Ah, look at me! Is this not still my hand that presses yours? Just as in the past? Is it not my voice? Am I not Manon?
    DG: Oh God, Support me now in this supreme moment!
    Manon: I love you!
    DG: Be quiet! Don't speak of love here, it's blasphemy! It's the hour of prayer...
    Manon: No! I won't leave you!
    DG: They call me in church.
    Manon: No! I won't leave you. Come! Is this not still my hand that presses yours, just as in the past?
    DG: Just as in the past! Ah, Manon! I can no longer fight against myself!
    Manon: At last!
    DG: Though my soul may be lost, let the heavens fall! My life is in your heart, my life is in your eyes. Come, Manon. I love you!

Soirées Musicales poems by Count Carlo Pepoli
    La Regata Veneziana Row, Tonio, beloved, row, pull! Beppe is toiling, he has cramps, poor friend, he can't do anymore. Tonio, row on. Dear Beppe, my old friend, don't be weak with your oar--we're here. Pull, keep rowing! Oh heaven have mercy on a young girl who has a lover in the regatta! Console her, and don't prolong her striving.
    La Serenata See the white moon hidden by a beautiful veil. Come to the dark woods, come, the sky smiles on you. There amid the dark shadows, come, quietly. Oh, come, it's certain no one will know but Love.
    I Marinai    Sailor, keep watch. - I'm keeping watch. The night grows darker already. Already the wind is changing.
    The sea roars; with luck the sea will soon rise.
    Be careful--pull, release to the stern, to the bow. Let's go...the sail, the anchor, we've already come about. - Where are we going? Who knows?
    The thunder rumbles, the wind whistles. The lightning flash has already struck--we've sprung a leak.
    Where? - There--take courage, take courage, we'll triumph.
    In the furor of fortune fear will never possess me. I have faith that my angel of mercy has prayed for me.
    There, the sky is clearing, the sun appears in its splendor, the prayer of love has guided the rainbow to us.
    Back on the shore again, I'll kiss my sweetheart a thousand times. She will always be the true star of the faithful sailor.
    Sailor to shore, to shore. Long live the sea.

Mandoline (poem by Verlaine) The men serenading and the lovely ladies listening exchange affected pleasantries under the singing branches. Tircis is there and Aminte, and the inevitable Clitandre; and there is Damis, who for many a cruel maid makes many tender verses. Their short silk jackets, their long gowns with trains, their elegance, their joy, and their soft blue shadows whirl in the ecstasy of a rose and gray moon, and the mandolin babbles on in the quiverings of the breeze.

La derniere feuille (poem by Gautier) In the bleak and blighted forest nothing is left on the branch but a poor forgotten leaf; nothing but a leaf and a bird. Nothing is left in my soul except a single love which sings. But the autumn wind's blowing prevents it from being heard. The bird flees, the leaf falls, love pales, for it is winter. Little bird, come to my tomb, to sing when the tree is green again.

Puisqu'ici-bas toute âme (poem by Victor Hugo) Since on this earth every living creature offers to somebody its music, its ardor, its scent, since everything always gives its thorn or its rose to its loved one, since April lends the oak trees a wonderful sound, and night gives to our troubles forgetful oblivion, and since, as it comes to rest there, the bitter wave gives the shore a kiss, I give you now, as I lean over you, the best that I have of myself.

Béatrice et Bénédict libretto by Hector Berlioz, the composer, after Shakespeare's play Much Ado about Nothing, Baden-Baden premiere 1862; Paris premiere 1890
    Hero: I shall be both the joy and the supreme happiness of a loving heart. My dear Claudio loves me. My husband will remain my lover.      (Ursula: Hero will be both the joy...) (Beatrice: You will be both the joy...)
    Hero, Ursula: What tenderness! What a change!
    Ursula: But Madame, what is this? For a single moment could you envy these two hearts? And that liberty, the delight of your life, would you exchange it for a loving husband?
    Beatrice: A lover? A husband? For me? That in slavery I should trembling drag my chains? I'd rather witness the withering of my youth in a convent, garbed in black and hair-shirt.
    Hero: There's no doubt about it, dear cousin, marriage would be fatal for your heart. But what if a suitor, seeing your divine figure, your lovely features and your matchless wit, felt he must yield to you, and pour out tears from his eyes for you?
    Hero, Ursula: Do not one day allow a tender requital to be the payment of her love!
    Beatrice: I scoff, dear cousin, at all these heroes with their bewitching airs. Fear not that in my turn I should yield to them! No, no, even were the bravest of men to yield to me, I'd laugh at his tears, and I should not with tender requital be seen to reward his demented passion.
    Ursula: In marriage, alas, habit, that ghost with deadened eyes where boredom is depicted, brings only too often distaste and weariness, and tardy regret!
    Hero: And soon after, there comes jealousy, that green-eyed monster, spewed out from hell...
    Hero, Ursula: ...which poisons an innocent life with dreadful outbursts.
    Hero: Ah! What if Claudio--Heaven, what a dread thought!--were to grow cool towards me!
    Beatrice: Ah! It would make me die of anger!
    Hero: To flee from me for another!
    Beatrice: I should go out of my mind!
    Hero: To be deceived by him...abandoned...
    Beatrice: Ah, the sword, the poison!
    Hero: The lioness in full spate of anger! What? Can it be that jealousy has taken hold of you in such a manner? But I was speaking in jest. No, I feel it...I shall be both the joy and the supreme happiness of a loving heart. My dear Claudio loves me. My husband will remain my lover.
Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann (1815-1818); Paris premiere 1881
    Hélas mon coeur
    Hoffmann: Alas, my heart is lost again. My senses catch fire, I curse the love that devours me. My reason cannot control it. Under that brow, luminous as the dawn, hell itself comes to intoxicate me. I hate her and adore her. I long to die of her kiss.
    Dapertutto: Poor Hoffmann, love has once again betrayed you. Your beauty with the face of dawn has sold me her sweet kisses.
    Giulietta: My handsome Hoffmann, I adore you, but my heart can't refuse this diamond sparkling with the fires of dawn that only cost me a kiss. For I'm a woman and adore all that helps me to enchant you. Poet, cool your passion; poet!
    Nicklaus: Alas! His heart is on fire again! He is drunk with love. It burns and consumes him. His imploring gaze says clearly that he adores her! Nothing can calm him. His poor heart will break!

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