Digital resources for French Romantic music

Sapho (Cain & Bernède / Massenet)




Pièce lyrique in 5 acts premiered at the Opéra-Comique (Paris) on 27 November 1897. Second version in 5 acts and 6 tableaux premiered at the same theatre on 22 January 1909. After Sapho by Alphonse Daudet.


“To Emma Calvé. I wrote all these pages with you in mind constantly–they must come alive through you–they are doubly yours and I give them to you with boundless gratitude” wrote Massenet on the day of the premiere. Subtitled Mœurs parisiennes and adapted for the stage, Daudet’s novel was a resounding success in the theatre with Jane Hading and Réjane. The typically Belle Époque subject was deeply inspiring for Massenet who, since La Navarraise, had been wanting to write a new tailor-made role for Emma Calvé. Cain and Bernède shifted the emotion to the pair of lovers, making Fanny and Jean modern heroes in a drama of manners. The importance of filial love, suffocating in the case of Divonne, but admirable in the case of Fanny, who finally embraces her role as a mother, was becoming increasingly evident in Massenet’s stage works. After resigning from his post at the Paris Conservatoire, the composer turned his back on the hurly-burly of Paris and travelled around the Cantal region, working enthusiastically on Sapho, whose orchestration he completed in the autumn of 1896 during a stay in Les Landes. Most unusual for Massenet’s works, the score of Sapho contains a large number of quotations, reinforcing the impression of a musical conversation in which the dramatic element is always central. The melodic inventiveness in this work is admirable, and the orchestra, similar to the one used in Werther, extends towards the lower registers in the strings and woodwind in the new tableau composed in 1908. Before his death three weeks after the work’s premiere, Daudet agreed: “With Massenet’s music, my book was given back to me in its entirety! And that was no mean feat!”

    Images - 7
  • Georgette Leblanc en Sapho (Massenet)
  • Marguerite Carré en Fanny Legrand (Sapho de Massenet)
  • Thomas Salignac en Jean Gaussin (Sapho de Massenet)
  • Couverture du piano-chant de la version italienne de Sapho (Massenet)
  • Couverture du piano-chant de Sapho (Cain & Bernède / Massenet)
  • Page de titre du piano-chant de Sapho (Cain & Bernède / Massenet)
  • Display more
    Libretto - 1
  • Sapho [mise en scène de Léon Carvalho]
  • Persons - 4
  • BERNÈDE, Arthur (1871-1937)
  • CAIN, Henri (1857-1937)
  • DAUDET, Alphonse (1840-1897)
  • MASSENET, Jules (1842-1912)