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La Carmélite

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Emma Calvé dans La Carmélite (Hahn) : dernier acte

A “Comédie musicale” in four acts and five scenes set to a libretto by Catulle Mendès, La Carmélite was performed for the first time at the Opéra-Comique on 16 December 1902, with the famous Emma Calvé in the lead role. With a subtitle that makes reference to a later musical tradition, the work composed by the young Reynaldo Hahn is resolutely light in tone. It brings to the stage a fictionalised account of the true story of the love affair between Louis XIV and Louise, the future duchess of La Vallière, who meet by chance at a ballet rehearsal. The young woman’s feelings for the king, devoid of ulterior motive, earn her his love in return. Their affection gives rise to some lovely arias, whose restrained vocal writing seems to operate as a sign of social distinction. The relationship between the two young lovers is, however, disrupted by the intervention of “L’Évêque”, recognisable as Bishop Bossuet, who threatens Louise with damnation. She ends her affair with the King and decides to enter the order of the Carmelites. The last act provides an original interpretation of the convent scene, a genuine topos in the history of Romantic opera genres—whether we think of Donizetti’s La Favorite (1840) or, closer to the works of Hahn, Offenbach’s La Fille du tambour-major (1879) or Varney’s Mousquetaires au couvent (1880). The remarkably realistic representation of Louise taking the veil caused a scandal in the press and the scene was shortened from the second performance of the work onwards. The stormy reception of the opera, which lacked any anticlerical commentary, can probably be explained by the prevailing social tension at the time of the opera’s first performance, following the publication of two decrees banning certain religious orders. 


publication date : 16/12/23

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