Opera Scotland

Piccolino

Music

Ernest Guiraud (born New Orleans, 23 June 1837; died Paris, 6 May 1892)

Text

Victorien Sardou and Charles Nuitter

Source

Drama by Sardou.

 

Premieres

First performance: Paris (Opéra Comique), 11 April 1876.

First performance in British Isles: Dublin (Gaiety Theatre), 4 January 1879.

First performance in UK: London (Her Majesty's Theatre), 29 January 1879.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 3 September 1879.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Guiraud is remembered today as the musician who composed the recitatives which converted Bizet's Carmen, billed initially as an opéra-comique, into a grand opera more appropriate for performance all over the world. These are increasingly rejected nowadays in favour of the original dialogue. He also completed a performing version of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann after the composer's death - only the first of several editors this ambiguous work has had over the years. He composed several operas himself, but these quickly disappeared from the repertoire. He was renowned as a teacher, one of his students being Debussy, so perhaps that will be his lasting claim to immortality.

Piccolino was considered at the time of its first British performances to be a lightweight work. It was, unfortunately, launched in London in a Carl Rosa season at Her Majesty's Theatre that included the English-language premiere of Carmen and the British premiere of Rienzi. It is hardly surprising that Piccolino, designed for small theatres, suffered by comparison.

 

Main Characters

Zeigler, a Swiss pastor (bass)

Madame Zeigler, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Marthe, their adopted daughter, a shepherdess (soprano)

Comète, an amateur artist (tenor)

Musaveigne, a musician (baritone)

Torteau, a sculptor (bass)

Frédéric Auvray, a painter (tenor)

Duke Strozzi (bass)

Countess Elena, his sister (soprano)

 

Plot Summary

In brief, A young girl is betrayed and deserted by her lover, a painter. She takes on male attire and, disguised as a young Italian under the name Piccolino, is able to regain his affection.

The opera opens in Switzerland, near Lausanne, where pastor Zeigler is about to celebrate Christmas with his wife, their two daughters, and Marthe, a girl they have adopted. It is snowing and, with the poor people of the neighourhood assembling for a party, they are joined by three travelling bohemians who are also made welcome. Marthe hears them talking about their friend, a painter who is now working in Rome. She had previously been loved and abandoned by this painter, Frédéric Auvray, and she sets off through the blizzard to track him down.

A few months later, at Tivoli, Frédéric is staying at an inn where his three friends have joined him. Marthe, disguised as a boy, has also found her way there. Under the name 'Piccolino', she is taken on by Frédéric as a pupil. She becomes an interested observer as Frédéric develops a liaison with Elena, sister of Duke Strozzi. The Duke is not amused, and arranges for Frédéric to be attacked. However Piccolino intervenes, saving his life at the cost of a wound to 'his' shoulder.

At Frédéric's studio on the banks of the Tiber, Elena visits her lover, only to be accosted by Piccolino, who reveals her true identity. Elena refuses to give up the painter until, hidden in the studio as Frédéric and the Duke approach, she overhears her brother explain to the painter that her family are so appalled by her affair that she is likely to be packed off to a convent if she doesn't give it up. Piccolino, still ignored by Frédéric, decides to drown herself in the Tiber. She is fished out by a boatman, and her true identity revealed. At last she and Frédéric are reconciled.

The Cast

Charlotte
 the pastor's younger daughter
Comète
 an artist
Denise
 the pastor's elder daughter
Duchess Elena
 Strozzi's sister
Duke Strozzi
 
Frédéric Auvray
 a painter
Jacques
 the pastor's grandson
Madame Zeigler
 the pastor's wife
Marthe
 the pastor's adopted daughter, a shepherdess
Musavaigne
 a musician
Torteau
 a sculptor
Zeigler
 a Swiss pastor

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