"Pénélope" is an
operain three acts by the French composer Gabriel Fauré. The libretto, by René Fauchois, is based on Homer's " Odyssey". It was first performed at the Salle Garnier, Monte Carloon 4 March 1913.
Background and performance history
Fauré was inspired to write the opera after a meeting with the soprano Lucienne Bréval in 1907. She also recommended Fauchois as a librettist. Work on the score was slow due to Fauré's teaching commitments at the
Paris Conservatoire. For this reason, composer asked Fauchois to reduce the libretto from five to three acts and to cut the character of Ulysses's son Telemachus. Fauré completed the opera at Luganoon August 31, 1912.
The premiere at Monte Carlo was not a great success, partly because the director of the theatre,
Raoul Gunsbourg, was more concerned with promoting his own opera, "Vénise", which made its debut four days later. But "Pénélope" was rapturously received when it appeared at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Parison May 10, 1913. Unfortunately for Fauré, the theatre soon went bankrupt. Despite critics holding the music in high esteem, revivals of the opera have been rare.
Penelope has been waiting for ten years for the return of her husband, Ulysses, King of
Ithaca. In the mean time she has been besieged by suitors for her hand in marriage. She promises she will choose between them once she has finishing weaving a shroud for her father-in-law Laertes, but every night she unpicks the day's work. Ulysses arrives at the palace disguised as a beggar and is recognised by his old nurse Euryclea.
That night, as ever, Penelope keeps watch for Ulysses's ship on a hill-top overlooking the sea. She talks nostalgically to the shepherd Eumaeus. The beggar offers to help Penelope defeat the suitors. He claims to be a fugitive Cretan king who has seen Ulysses alive at his court. After Penelope leaves, Ulysses reveals his true identity to the overjoyed shepherds.
The suitors have arranged Penelope's wedding in the palace hall. She tells them that they must decide which one will win her hand by holding a competition to see who can draw Ulysses's bow. Not one of them succeeds. The beggar steps forward and draws the bow with ease, before turning to shoot the suitors. The shepherds join in the killing with their knives. Finally, Ulysses and Penelope are happily reunited.
Jessye Norman, Alain Vanzo, José van Dam, Michelle Command, Ensemble Vocal Jean Laforge, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, conducted by Charles Dutoit(Erato, 1982)
*"The Viking Opera Guide" ed. Holden (Viking, 1993)
* [http://www.delteatro.it/dizionario_dell_opera/p/penelope_1.php Del Teatro (in Italian)]
* [http://www.amadeusonline.net/almanacco.php?Start=0&Giorno=4&Mese=03&Anno=1913&Giornata=&Testo=&Parola=Stringa Amadeus Online]
*Booklet notes to the above recording by Jean-Michel Nectoux.
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