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Amadis de Gaule (Devismes de Saint-Alphonse)




Based on Philippe Quinault's Amadis (1684).

From the CD-Book Amadis de Gaule de Johann Chirstian Bach (Palazzetto Bru Zane, collection Opéra français, 2012). Translation: Mary Pardoe.


Acte I

A forest, its trees hung with trophies; in the background a bridge, leading to a fortress.

The sorceress Arcabonne refuses love: it is her fate to be cruel. However, as she tells her brother Arcalaüs, she is in love with a nameless knight who once saved her life. Despite her efforts, she is unable to forget his face. Arcalaüs urges her to rid herself of such feelings and to concentrate instead on avenging the death of their brother, Ardan Canil, at the hands of Amadis, who is in love with the beautiful Oriane, daughter of Lisuart, king of England. Arcalaüs summons demons to help capture Amadis. They appear, followed by the allegorical figures of Hatred and Discord, and Arcalaüs commands this evil band to spoil the knight’s happiness. Already he has introduced the poison of jealousy into Oriane’s heart. The lovers approach and those present retire. Amadis does not understand Oriane’s reproaches and denies being unfaithful. Left alone, he vows that his love for her will be forever loyal. Suddenly, he hears the distant wailing of prisoners, held by the enchantments of Arcabonne, and realises that Oriane has been abducted. He is about to enter the fortress, but Arcalaüs, surrounded by enchanters, bars his way. They are put to flight by the knight’s bravery. Then a group of demons disguised as shepherds and shepherdesses approaches. Amadis is tricked into believing one of them is Oriane. He gives up his weapons to follow her into the fortress.

Act II

On one side, an arid wilderness and the tomb of Ardan Canil; on the other, an old ruined palace and several prison cells.

The guards, unmoved by the captives’ laments, show only indifference and brutality. Arcabonne appears with her following of enchantresses, and tells the prisoners that death is about to bring an end to their suffering: they are to be sacrificed to placate the spirits (manes) of Ardan Canil, then Amadis, who killed her brother, will also perish, for he has been captured by Arcalaüs. Amidst the rituals carried out by the enchantresses, a sinister moaning is heard, then the voice of Ardan Canil: he predicts that his sister will soon betray him (by not carrying out her revenge) and will join him in Hell. Arcabonne does not understand this prophecy; she swears to accomplish her task. When Amadis is brought before her, however, she immediately recognises him as the hero who saved her life. Unable to carry out the execution, although Amadis, still rejected by Oriane, begs her to end his life, she frees all the captives at his request, as his reward for once saving her life. The captives, relieved of their fetters, sing of Amadis’s courage and celebrate their freedom.


The scene changes to a pleasant island.

Arcalaüs does not know that Arcabonne has spared Amadis. He wants to make Oriane suffer by showing her his dead body. Arcabonne confesses that she was unable to sacrifice Amadis, having recognised him as the man who saved her life, and admits that she still loves him.Arcalaüs is annoyed that their vengeance has not been accomplished; her feelings are in vain: in the hope of arousing her jealousy and hatred, he will show his sister that Amadis loves Oriane and that his love is reciprocated. Oriane, who is the enchanter’s prisoner, laments Amadis’s (imagined) infidelity and implores Heaven to help her. Arcalaüs arrives and tells her that he has killed her fickle lover. He shows her his body lying on the ground. Heartbroken, Oriane accuses herself of bringing about his death by her anger. Arcabonne and Arcalaüs are delighted to see her in such deep despair. But just as they are about to kill the two lovers, Oriane having fainted beside Amadis, a storm with thunder and lightning announces the arrival of the fairy Urgande with her followers. Arcalaüs prepares to fight, while Arcabonne realises that Amadis will never be hers. The moaning that was heard at Ardan Canil’s tomb is heard again, calling her to Hell, and she kills herself: Ardan Canil’s prediction has come true. Urgande descends and with her magic wand touches Oriane and Amadis, who are released from Arcalaüs’s spell. They are united at last and sing of their love. Urgande then asks Amadis to follow him, for only he, as the most faithful of all lovers, can free the prisoners held in the enchanted palace of Appollidon. Amidst celebration, Amadis passes beneath the Arch of the Loyal Lovers.

The scene changes to the palace of Appollidon.

The calm after the storm. Amadis frees the lovers held prisoner in the palace, and they emerge to perform the dances of the final divertissement. Amadis sings an ariette in praise of love.

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  • DEVISMES DE SAINT-ALPHONSE, Alphonse-Marie-Denise (1746-1792)
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  • Amadis de Gaule (Devisme de Saint-Alphonse / Bach)
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  • Sérié, Pierre – Amadis de Gaule: plot and libretto