Beatrice and Benedict
Extract from the Memoirs
Translated by Michel Austin
© Michel Austin
This page is also available in French
Beatrice and Benedict
Memoirs, Postface (1864)
[...] After the completion of this opera [The Trojans] and before it was put on stage, I wrote at the request of M. Bénazet, the director of the casino at Baden Baden, the comic opera in two acts Beatrice and Benedict. It was performed with great success under my direction in the new theatre at Baden-Baden on 9th August 1862. A few months later it was staged with equal success at Weimar at the request of the Grand Duchess, in a German translation by M. Richard Pohl. Their Highnesses had invited me to come and conduct the first two performances, and as ever lavished on me generosities of every kind. […]
For this work I had made use of part of the story in Shakespeare’s play Much ado about nothing, and added only the episode of the music director and the vocal pieces. The duet between the two young women "Vous soupirez, madame!", the trio of Hero, Beatrice and Ursula "Je vais d’un cœur aimant" and the great aria of Beatrice "Dieu! que viens-je d’entendre?", which Mme Charton sang at Baden-Baden with verve, feeling, much élan, and exceptional beauty of style, all made an extraordinary impact. Critics who had come from Paris for this occasion were warm in their praise of the music, in particular the aria and the duet. A few thought there was a good deal of clutter in the rest of the score, and found the spoken dialogue lacking in wit. The spoken dialogue is taken almost word for word from Shakespeare’s text…
This score is difficult to perform well, especially as regards the men’s roles. In my view it is one of the liveliest and most original that I have written. Unlike The Trojans, it does not cost anything to put on stage. But theatre directors will be careful not to ask me to perform it in Paris. So much the better: the music is not suitable for Parisians. With his customary generosity M. Bénazet gave me 2000 francs for each act, for the libretto and as much for the music, in other words a total of 8000 francs. In addition he gave me a further 1000 francs to come and conduct the performance the following year. The piano reduction I have had engraved. The full score will be published later together with the three other operas, Benvenuto Cellini, The Fall of Troy, and The Trojans at Carthage, if I have enough money to do this. The publisher Choudens, who bought my opera The Trojans, did undertake in writing to publish the full score a year after the piano reduction. But this promise has not been kept any better than so many others, and from the moment the contract was signed no further mention of the matter etc. etc. The duet of the young women in Beatrice and Benedict is now widely known in Germany and is frequently performed. In connection with this duet I remember how the Grand Duke of Weimar, during my last visit to him, would sometimes invite me to dinner in a select company and would ask me about my life in Paris and many other details. He was very surprised and saddened when I revealed to him the sad truth about the musical world we live in here. But one evening I made him laugh. He asked me in what circumstances I had written the music for the duet of Beatrice: "Vous soupirez, madame!"
"— You must have written this, he said, by moonlight in some romantic place…
"— Sire, this is one of those of impressions of nature that artists store in their memory and which emerge from their creative mind without warning and in the most unpredictable circumstances. I sketched the music of this duet one day at the Institut, while one of my colleagues was delivering a speech.
"— Good for the speaker! the Grand Duke replied. He must have been a man of exceptional eloquence!"
Beatrice and Benedict (commentary and score)
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© Michel Austin for the English translation. All rights of reproduction reserved.