Viet Nam News
By Phương Mai
HCM CITY — Frédégonde, an opera by French composer Camille Saint-Saens forgotten and not performed for over a century, will be revived in HCM City this week.
The five-act opera was composed in 1895 based on a libretto by French writer Louis Gallet.
Saint-Saens actually completed Ernest Guiraud’s unfinished opera of the same name, composing the end of act III and acts IV and V.
Acts I and II and the first part of act III, composed by Guiraud, were orchestrated by Paul Dukas, his student.
The opera depicts an actual historic period in France during the Middle Ages, starting with a fight for power between Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia and Queen Frédégonde of Neustrie.
Frédégonde first persuaded King Hilpéric of Neustrie to divorce his wife Audovera, whom she had served, and marry her. And then she ordered the murder of Audovera.
Brunhilda, Audovera’s sister, decided to revenge her sister.
To prevent her from doing so, Mérowig, Hilperic’s son and crown prince, was ordered to imprison her in a convent. But the plan failed after he became besotted with Bruhilda and helped his lover revolt against the powerful Frédégonde.
Frédégonde premiered at the Opera de Paris in 1895 and ran for only eight nights. After that it has never been performed in public.
The HCM City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO) has collaborated with France’s La Fabrique Opera to bring the show to the city.
The opera will be performed in French but will have Vietnamese subtitles.
It will be directed by French woman Caroline Blanpied, who made her first play at the age of 24.
It will feature six French soloists, including soprano Sophie Leleu (as Frédégone), who played Carmen in the premiere of HBSO’s opera Carmen in 2015, and mezzo-soprano Valéria Altaver (as Bruhilda), and HBSO artists like tenor Đào Mác.
Forty young artists from the Korean Children’s Choir in HCM City will also perform.
Blanpied said she has been under pressure: “I have only two weeks to stage the performance. Time, culture, and language are obstacles. But I’m happy at working with Vietnamese artists. Their attitude and collaboration has helped push up the work.
“I’m confident that the performance will be successful.”
French conductor Patrick Souillot, who worked with HBSO on two operas earlier, Carmen and La Vie Parisienne (Parisian Life), will wield the baton again along with young conductor Trần Nhật Minh.
Souillot said: “Inspired by Eastern culture, Saint-Saens left a strong impression on audiences with the use of traditional musical instruments like gongs, tam-tam and legni in the final act of the play.”
“I want to say thanks to conductor Trần Vương Thạch, director of HBSO. With a huge effort, he has helped revive Frédégonde, a work by one of the world’s great composers which was forgotten for over 100 years.”
Five vocal score books, one for each act, of the long-forgotten French opera Frédégonde. Photo courtesy of HBSO
30-year quest for forgotten opera
Thạch knew about Frédégonde as a student (1982-83) from his teacher, Quang Hải, who had visited Côn Đảo Island (some 170 kilometres off the southern province of Vũng Tàu) and found a bronze sign saying that Saint-Saens had visited the island and finished the operar there.
Thạch himself then visited the island to look for the sign but in vain. He asked local authorities about it, but they didn’t believe that the composer had come to this island.
Thạch decided to do a bit of research to prove that Saint-Saens had indeed visited Côn Đảo.
After a lot of research he finally discovered Saint-Saens’s name in a list of passengers to Sài Gòn in an old newspaper.
“I also found a set of five vocal score books of the opera [one per act] at the Opera de Paris’s library during a trip to Europe. They gave me a copy. It was a precious gift.”
“I presented another copy to Côn Đảo authorities.
“After this premiere, HBSO will continue to stage the play with an all-Vietnamese cast. We are also waiting for an opportunity to take it to Vũng Tàu and later to France.”
Frédégonde will be staged on October 20-21 at the HCM City Opera House, Lam Sơn Square, District 1. Tickets can be bought at the box office or at www.ticketbox.vn. — VNS