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La Vestale (Étienne de Jouy)

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Acte one

The Roman Forum, at dawn.

The Roman general Licinius tells his friend Cinna of his sorrow: he harbours a sacrilegious passion for the Vestal Virgin Julia, who returns his love. The horrified Cinna fears his friend will incur divine wrath but promises to help him. The Vestals process to the temple in song. On this day the valiant Licinius, who has saved the country from the peril of invasion by the Gauls, is to receive the victor’s crown in a public ceremony. The cause of Julia’s turmoil does not escape the Chief Vestal; she warns her of the evils of love and the penalty to which she exposes herself. It is time for Licinius’ triumph. As Julia places the crown on his brow, he whispers that he will come to run off with her during the night.

Acte two

The temple of Vesta, at nightfall.

The Chief Vestal reminds Julia of her mission to watch over the sacred fire. Left alone, Julia opens the gates of the temple to allow Licinius to enter, in spite of the fear that torments her. However, she refuses to abscond, so as not to bring shame upon him. But a misfortune soon occurs: just as they are about to consecrate their union in secret at the altar of Vesta, the fire goes out. Cinna bursts into the temple: someone is coming! Licinius allows himself to be persuaded to flee because his presence there would only increase the severity of Julia’s sentence. He promises to return to save her or die with her. Priests and Vestals enter and find the flame extinguished. Amid general consternation, Julia confesses her fault, hoping that death will finally deliver her from her duty. The Supreme Pontiff summons her to name the man who has desecrated the temple, but she refuses and is condemned to death.

Acte three

The Field of Execration, before the tombs of the sacrilegious Vestals.

Cinna announces to Licinius that he has gathered a small band of friends prepared to come to his aid if need be. But before taking up arms, the general tries unsuccessfully to influence the Supreme Pontiff’s decision by confessing that he is Julia’s lover. In front of the Romans gathered for the execution, Licinius again proclaims that he is the sole guilty party. He proposes to sacrifice himself in Julia’s place, but she denies knowing him in order to protect him, before allowing herself to be entombed alive. Suddenly, just as Licinius and his friends are about to launch their attack, a miracle occurs: lightning flashes and the sacred fire is rekindled, a sign that the gods have forgiven the Vestal Virgin. Julia and Licinius finally marry, blessed by the Priests and Priestesses of Venus Erycina.

CD-Book Gaspare Spontini. La Vestale (2023). French libretto, english translation by Charles Johnston.

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Étienne de JOUY

(1764 - 1846)

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La Vestale



Étienne de JOUY

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