Opera Scotland

Esmeralda

Music

Arthur Goring Thomas (born Ratton Park, 20 November 1850; died London, 20 March 1892)

Text

Theophile Marzials and Alberto Randegger

Source

Novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831) by Victor Hugo (1802-85).

 

Premières

First performance: London (Drury Lane), 26 March 1883.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 2 November 1883.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Arthur Goring Thomas was considered to be a highly promising composer of opera, and his first works in that field, Esmeralda and Nadeshda were immmediately successful. His third piece, The Golden Web, was completed by Waddington after his untimely death, but did not repeat the success of the first two operas. The success of Esmeralda extended to performances in 1890 at Covent Garden, when the cast was led by Nellie Melba and Jean de Reszke, singing in French translation.

Victor Hugo's story has in recent years been eclipsed by his later masterpiece Les Misérables, largely due to the astonishing success of the musical based on it. In earlier years, however, it was the novel Notre Dame de Paris that enjoyed great success, throughout the nineteenth century and up to the hugely successful Hollywood version, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), in which Charles Laughton played Quasimodo. Incidentally, Laughton had already appeared in a film based on Hugo when he was Javert in the 1935 version of Les Misérables.

 

Main Characters

Esmeralda, a gipsy girl (soprano)

Fleur-de-Lys, betrothed to Phoebus (soprano)

Lady Lois, governess to Fleur-de-Lys (mezzo-soprano)

Phoebus de Chateaupers, a Captain of Archers (tenor)

Claude Frollo, Archdeacon of Notre Dame (baritone)

Quasimodo, a hunchback (baritone)

Pierre Gringoire, a poet, married to Esmeralda (tenor)

Clopin, King of the Beggars (baritone)

Marquis de Chevreuse (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The setting is the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris during the year 1482. Quasimodo, a hunchbacked foundling, has been adopted by Frollo and lives within the cathedral precincts. He has been deafened by a lifetime of bellringing. At Epiphany, during the Feast of Fools, on a rare venture outside the precincts, Quasimodo is appointed King of Fools. Frollo develops an obsession with a sweet-natured gipsy-girl Esmeralda. She is married to Gringoire, whom she despises, but she is very attracted to Phoebus, who, although betrothed to Fleur-de-Lys, is also attracted to Esmeralda. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap her, but this is prevented by the intervention of Phoebus. Quasimodo's punishment is to be whipped and put in the stocks in full sun. Esmeralda takes pity on him and gives him water. When Phoebus makes his attempt to seduce Esmeralda, Frollo tries to kill him. However the blame for the attack is placed on Esmeralda and she is sentenced to death. But she is saved by Quasimodo, who carries her to sanctuary in the cathedral. Frollo and Gringoire succeed in catching her, but when she still rejects Frollo's advances they hand her over to the soldiers for execution. At last realising Frollo's true nature, Quasimodo kills him by hurling him from the belltower. He then starves himself to death.

The Cast

Claude Frollo
 Archdeacon of Notre Dame
Clopin
 King of the Beggars
Esmeralda
 a gipsy
Fleur-de-Lys
 betrothed to Phoebus
Lady Lois
 governess to Fleur-de-Lys
Marquis de Chevreuse
 
Phoebus de Chateaupers
 a Captain of Archers
Pierre Gringoire
 a poet, married to Esmeralda
Quasimodo
 a hunchback

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