Opera Scotland

Pénélope

Music

Gabriel Fauré (born Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; died Paris, 4 November 1924)

Text

René Fauchois

Source

Epic poem The Odyssey by Homer (c700BC).

 

Premieres

First performance: Monte Carlo (Salle Garnier), 4 March 1913.

First UK performance: London (Royal Academy of Music), 20 November 1970.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 27 August 2000 (concert).

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Fauré is remembered nowadays largely as a composer of songs. However he did produce a number of orchestral works and music for the theatre. He spent most of his career looking for operatic subjects, but only completed two operas, both on classical Greek subjects, the first of these being a very grand version of Prometheus produced in the open air with massive forces, but with long sections of declamation without music. It is never performed. Pénélope is more conventional in form, but has not been played as often as its quality would deserve, perhaps due to the restraint shown in handling the plot of reunion and reconciliation.

 

Main Characters

Ulysse, King of Ithaca (tenor)

Eumée, a shepherd (baritone)

Antinoüs, a suitor (tenor)

Eurymache, a suitor (baritone)

Pénélope, wife of Ulysse (soprano)

Euryclée, Penelope’s old nurse (mezzo-soprano)

Pisandre, a suitor (baritone)

Cléone (mezzo-soprano)

Mélantho (soprano)

 

Plot Summary

Penelope’s maids discuss the continuing absence of her husband after ten years away at the Trojan War. They think she should marry one of the suitors who constantly besiege her. She refuses to choose between them until she has finished weaving her father-in-law’s shroud (but they have not yet realised she unpicks her work every night). A beggar arrives and is abused by the suitors. He is made welcome by Penelope, who thinks he looks somehow familiar. Euryclea does recognise him as Ulysses, but he persuades her to keep quiet for the time being. When the suitors discover Penelope unpicking her day’s weaving, she is obliged to promise a decision the next day. When she and Euryclea prepare to start their nightly vigil on a hillside, looking for the return of Ulysses’ ship, the beggar is understandably delighted at his wife’s faithfulness. When she questions him he claims to have seen Ulysses recently and that he will be home in a few days. Penelope is overjoyed. Ulysses asks if any of the suitors has managed to draw his bow. She decides to use that to decide between them. Ulysses tells the shepherds on the hillside of his identity and he is greeted with joy – they promise help in the challenge lying ahead. Penelope spends a sleepless night, while the suitors prepare a wedding banquet. When Penelope announces the archery contest it is found that none of the suitors can draw the bow. The beggar comes forward and, drawing it easily, shoots Eurymachus. The other suitors are despatched by the shepherds while Ulysses and Penelope are reunited.

The Cast

Antinoüs
 a suitor
Cléone
 attendant on Pénélope
Eumée
 a shepherd
Euryclée
 Ulysse's old nurse
Eurymaque
 a suitor
Léodês
 
Pénélope
 wife of Ulysse
Pisandre
 a suitor
Ulysse
 King of Ithaca

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