Opera Scotland

Djamileh

Music

Georges Bizet (born Paris, 25 October 1838; died Le Bougival, nr Paris, 3 June 1875)

Text

Louis Gallet

Source

Poem Namouna (1833) by Alfred de Musset (1810-1857).

 

Premières

First performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 22 May 1872.

First UK performance: Manchester (), 22 September 1892.

First performance in Scotland: Dundee (Her Majesty’s Theatre), 7 November 1892.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

This opera, the last that Bizet composed before embarking on Carmen, is frequently described as containing superb music – exotically oriental in style, full of melody, and beautifully orchestrated. Yet it has never caught on anywhere. It is short, in one act, and the plot is relatively inconsequential. The first run in Paris suffered from the fact that the creator of the title role was renowned for her physical attractions, but not, in any positive sense, for her voice. But that cannot explain its subsequent neglect. From 1890, and the unprecedented success of Cavalleria Rusticana, opera managements searched desperately for a suitable companion piece to complete the evening. This search continued until 1893, and the introduction of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. In Britain, the Carl Rosa organisation tried several solutions, including finishing the evening with a single act of a popular work, such as Faust, Maritana, or Il trovatore. This was clearly not an entirely satisfactory solution, and in 1892 they produced the British premiere of Djamileh as a curtain raiser. It was Bizet’s last opera before the posthumous triumph of Carmen, which by 1892 was already a hugely popular work, so the introduction of another late work by Bizet must have seemed an attractive possibility. The production opened in Dublin on 10 September before transferring to Manchester two weeks later, sung in a translation by John Bennett. Whether performances would have continued in this way had Pagliacci not appeared cannot be judged from this distance, but Djamileh has not found another partner - perhaps one of Massenet's shorter works would do the trick - La Navarraise anyone?.

 

Characters

Djamileh, a slave (mezzo-soprano)

Haroun, a prince (tenor)

Splendiano, his servant (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

Out of boredom, Haroun is in the habit of selling his existing slave every month and purchasing a new one. On this occasion, as the time for sale approaches, things work out differently. Djamileh’s month is nearly up, but during this period she has fallen in love with Haroun, and Splendiano has fallen for her. She persuades the servant to help her scheme to extend her time in office. His compensation will be marriage to her if her plan should fail. When the slave-master arrives on his monthly visit with the batch of girls for Haroun’s approval, Djamileh is permitted to join them in disguise, and her dancing so entrances Haroun that she is chosen once more. When he discovers her identity he realizes that he loves her, and she tells him that she tricked him out of love. He agrees to take her back.

The Cast

Djamileh
 a slave
Haroun
 a prince
Slave Merchant
 
Splendiano
 Haroun's servant

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