By

Hugh Macdonald

© 2007 Hugh Macdonald

     In 1841 Berlioz composed at least the first act of a libretto by Eugène Scribe based on Matthew Lewis’s novel The Monk, but with little enthusiasm for the project from Scribe, and perhaps not from Berlioz either, the opera was never completed. Two Airs and a Duo survive in a manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, each preceded by recitative. The Duo is not complete, breaking off after nearly 400 bars of music. The libretto passed to Gounod, whose opera La Nonne sanglante, was played at the Opéra in 1854. From Gounod’s opera we have the words for the end of Berlioz’s duet, and these are so similar in rhyme and meter to the words of the duet for Cassandre and Chorèbe in Act I of Les Troyens, that it seems likely that the end of the duet in La Nonne sanglante was the same as the duet in Les Troyens. Here are some lines for comparison:

La Nonne:

Ô toi que j’adore!
Ô toi que j’implore!
Bien avant l’aurore
Il faut fuir tous deux!
L’amour qui m’inspire
Saura nous conduire.
Consens, ou j’expire
D’amour à tes yeux!

A tes genoux je tombe!

Les Troyens:

Quitte-nous dès ce soir,
Entends-moi je t’implore
Dans nos murs que l’aurore
Ne puisse te revoir.
D’épouvante j’expire
Et mon cœur se déchire
Et mon cœur se déchire,
Pars ce soir, pars ce soir!

A tes genoux, Cassandre!

Furthermore, the orchestration of both scenes is the same, with the four horns pitched in a combination of four different keys which is the same in both scores, and very unusual in Berlioz’s music. The situation in both operas is similar, Rodolphe pleading with Agnès to flee with him in La Nonne and Chorèbe pleading Cassandre to flee with him in Les Troyens.

* Excerpts from Berlioz’s unfinished opera La Nonne sanglante were performed on 28 July as the closing concert of the 2007 Festival de Radio France and Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. The venue was Opéra Berlioz at Le Corum, Montpellier. Alain Altinoglu conducted the Orchestre national de Montpellier, with Cornelia Hunold, Frédéric Antoun, and Franck Ferrari as soloists.

Among the pieces performed at the concert was the duo of Agnès and Rodolphe, completed for this performance by Professor Hugh Macdonald. In response to our invitation, Professor Macdonald kindly sent us this short article for which we are most grateful.

See also on this site:

À Propos de la Nonne de Montpellier, remarks on the concert by Pierre-René Serna (in French)

La Nonne sanglante de Montpellier, a review of the concert by Jean-Philippe Dartevel (in French)

The surviving fragments of the libretto of La Nonne sanglante

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 11 August 2007.
All rights of reproduction reserved.

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