Opera Scotland

Olympians The Olympians

Music

Arthur Bliss (born London, 2 August 1891; died London, 27 March 1875)

Text

J B Priestley (1894-1984).

Source

Original

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Covent Garden), 29 September 1949.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Empire Theatre), 21 April 1950.

 

Background

It seems strange that Bliss's opera, with a literate and intelligent libretto by Priestley. should have disappeared almost without trace. It was quite well received at its premiere, enjoyed five performances in London and a further five on tour, yet has had no professional staging since. The plot seems to be rather whimsical, having elements reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan - their first (lost) burlesque Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old also uses the legend of Olympian gods taking to the road as strolling players.

Its sole Scottish performance on this tour was during a fortnight-long visit by the Covent Garden company to the Edinburgh Empire. However it was rather overshadowed by the other new work which was given its belated Scottish premiere a week later - Peter Grimes, already acknowledged to be a work of major importance. An amateur production in Edinburgh (1985) brought the work into the light with some success, but it has still not had a professional revival.

 

Main Characters

Lavatte, a wealthy villager (bass)

Madeleine, Lavatte's daughter (soprano)

Madame Bardeau (mezzo-soprano)

Hector de Florac, a poet (tenor)

Curé (tenor)

Jupiter (baritone)

Diana (soprano)

Mars (bass)

Bacchus (tenor)

Venus (mime)

Mercury (dancer)

 

Plot Summary

According to legend, the ancient gods of classical Olympus fell on hard times when people stopped worshipping them. They took to the roads of Europe, reduced to a band of strolling thespians. Priestley's twist on the tale is to allow them one day at Midsummer every hundred years (Brigadoon-style) to regain their powers, which can be applied to interfere in the lives of modern humans.

In 1836 at a village inn in Provence, the engagement of Lavatte's daughter is being celebrated. Lavatte is prosperous, elderly and mean, and has selected a similar character (with a title) for Madeleine's future partner. She has other ideas, having quickly caught the eye of another guest at the inn, a romantic poet called Hector.

In the evening, the penniless gods, who have been hired to provide the entertainment, take on their various godly characters, and sort out the mortals' problems. Even Lavatte is persuaded to part with some of his wealth.

The Cast

Alfred
 a night watchman in Lavatte's house
Bacchus
 one of the Olympians, a strolling player
Curé
 an elderly priest
Diana
 one of the Olympians, a strolling player
Hector de Florac
 a young romantic poet
Jean
 a porter at the 'Golden Duck'
Joseph Lavatte
 a wealthy bourgeois
Jupiter
 one of the Olympians, a strolling player
Madame Bardeau
 Landlady of the 'Golden Duck'
Madeleine
 Lavatte's daughter
Mars
 one of the Olympians, a strolling player
Mercury
 one of the Olympians, a strolling player
Venus
 one of the Olympians, a strolling player

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