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Le Marchand de Venise

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Opera in three acts and five scenes, Le Marchand de Venise was set to a libretto by Miguel Zamacoïs, after the play by Shakespeare. The work was performed for the first time at the Paris Opéra on 25 March 1935. The text follows the main action of the play: Antonio, a merchant from Venice, borrows money from Shylock to help out his friend Bassanio, who wants to approach Belmont for Portia’s hand in marriage. Confident that he will be able to pay him back, Antonio promises to let his creditor take a pound of flesh if he is unable to honour his promise; when Antonio finds that he cannot repay his debt, cruel Shylock insists on literally applying the terms of the contract between the two men. The lines from the play were however adapted very freely, as can be seen by this speech by Shylock at the end of Act I: “La vengeance est un plat de roi/Qui peut très bien se manger très froid” (“Revenge is a dish fit for a king/Which can be eaten very cold indeed”). With this work, Hahn declared that he had wanted to produce a “Mozartian entertainment” that could serve as a counterpoint to the horror of the front (the composer began writing the work during World War One). However, Zamacoïs’s libretto had none of the comic scenes from Shakespeare’s play, which meant that the opera was much more tragic in tone than its source. And although some of the work’s passages recall the lighter style of the composer’s songs or ballets, the role of Shylock produces some moments of high tension. Hahn had composed the work intending to give the role of Portia to the soprano Mary Garden, who had performed Debussy’s Mélisande and Strauss’s Salomé but, in the end, it was Fanny Heldy who took part in the work’s premiere. Although Le Marchand de Venise is little known, the opera has been staged several times since 1935, including a production during the 2014-2015 season at the Opera House in Saint-Étienne.


publication date : 25/09/23

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