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Proserpine (Louis Gallet)




Second version (1899) of the libretto. 

From the CD-Book Proserpine de Saint-Saëns (Palazzetto Bru Zane, collection Opéra français, 2017). Translation: Charles Johnston.



Sixteenth-century Italy. The courtesan, Proserpine, throws open her palace for a party after shutting herself away for a month. Her past and future lovers question each other. She appears and brushes them aside, sighing “Sabatino hasn’t come”. They sing a madrigal to her, but to no avail; she withdraws. The next moment, Sabatino comes through the door with his friend Renzo, whose sister, Angiola, he is to marry, on one condition: that he will free himself from his attraction for Proserpine, who has never bestowed her favours on him, by slaking his passion once and for all. When Proserpine returns, she welcomes Renzo and seems to ignore Sabatino who, during a private conversation, begs her to become his lover. Proserpine, who is secretly in love with him, replies that he is lucky that she is just a courtesan, because if she were to give away her heart, instead of selling her body, she would no longer be responsible for her actions. Alarmed, Sabatino claims that he only wants a venal relationship. She refuses. He persists: “I’m a wealthy man”. She dismisses him and, in despair, dreams of giving herself to a poor man. Just then, she notices a seasoned rogue, Squarocca, who has just been caught stealing her jewellery; giving him the choice between prison and her palace, she leads him into the party. When she learns of Sabatino’s imminent marriage, she assures herself of Squarocca’s devotion, then announces the start of the revels.


At the convent in Turin, where she has been shut away, Angiola finds it hard to believe the bright future described by her companions. Her brother, Renzo, is ushered in, accompanied by, he tells her, a sinner who by her good graces has triumphed over hell: Sabatino. The young man, deeply moved, improvises a declaration of love; she replies in a few words, then they sing of their happiness while exchanging rings; Renzo fondly joins his voice to theirs. They are interrupted by the sudden appearance of a crowd of pilgrims. Concealed among them, Squarocca watches and shakes with fear at having to tell Proserpine that Angiola is beautiful enough to make the courtesan die of jealousy.


In the mountains, the gypsies dance a tarantella. Proserpine, disguised as a gypsy, is waiting for Squarocca to make his report. She is in a furious mood, but they are there to seize Renzo and Angiola who are forced to interrupt their journey due to a well-planned axle breakage. Wracked by pangs of jealousy after suffering from unrequited love, Proserpine calls on her namesake, the goddess who was once deprived of sunlight the way she has been deprived of true love. Squarocca then begins singing a drunken song to attract the travellers searching for shelter in the dark. He soon greets them and, taking Renzo outside on the pretext of repairing their carriage, ties him to a tree while Angiola, who has stayed behind with Proserpine, has her fortune told. She is threatened with such dire consequences if she does not break off her engagement that she realises their deception and tries to flee. Squarocca stops her from escaping and Proserpine disappears while Renzo, who has broken free from his bonds, appears and rescues Angiola.


In his sitting room, Sabatino relishes the thought of his imminent marriage, which will deliver him from the depravities of his dissolute past. Proserpine appears unexpectedly, confessing that she has always loved him sincerely; she throws herself at his feet… He remains unmoved and begs her to leave when he hears the sound of Angiola’s carriage. Proserpine hides to watch the lovers’ demonstrations of affection. Unable to stand it any longer, she suddenly shows herself, rushing at Angiola with a dagger, which Sabatino just manages to turn aside. In despair, Proserpine stabs herself, finally earning the couple’s pity. As she dies, she wishes them a happy life.

    Person - 1
  • GALLET, Louis (1835-1898)
  • Work - 1
  • Proserpine (Gallet / Saint-Saëns)