The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif

The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif

"The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif" is an opera in two acts by contemporary American composer Stephen Hartke, with an English libretto by the Philip Littell, based on the short story Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant. It was commissioned by the Glimmerglass Opera, and premiered on 22 July 2006 at Glimmerglass, in Cooperstown, New York.

ynopsis

The opera is set in 1871, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. In Act I, a group of French citizens flee Rouen, which has been occupied by the Prussians, travelling to Le Havre in a stagecoach. The prostitute Boule de Suif is initially snubbed by all of the other, more "proper" passengers. However, Boule is the only one to have planned ahead for the trip and brought a basket of food. She takes pity on her hungry travelling companions and shares her food with them, at which they are all grateful and become friendly to Boule. When the coach reaches the village of Tôtes, the occupants are detained at an inn by Prussian soldiers.

In Act II, the travelers learn that the Prussian commandant will not let them continue on their way unless Boule sleeps with him. The others initially support Boule in rejecting the commandant's demand, but over time their attitude changes and they urge Boule to comply. Eventually, she does, for "the greater good". In the final scene, travelers resume their journey, but Boule is once again ostracized by those whome she had saved.

Roles

Critical response

Response to the opera in 2006 was mixed. Alex Ross of "The New Yorker" called "The Greater Good" "a tightly constructed, vividly imagined piece that may mark the emergence of a major opera composer." The "Los Angeles Times", despite complaining that "exploring [the characters'] inner lives leads nowhere", praised Hartke's music for its liveliness and theatrical flair. On the other hand, the "Toronto Star" said that "Hartke's music, while easy enough to listen to, became even easier to forget".

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