Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Redbox

LA Opera Norma: A Feast for the Ears

Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma to a libretto that Felice Romani had fashioned after Alexandre Soumet’s French play, Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide).

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

The Met’s First Five Productions

The only thing that is at all radical or even noteworthy about the current Metropolitan Opera season is its imbalance: five Donizetti operas to one Wagner.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Hibla Gerzmava to Debut at Carnegie Hall

The name of Hibla Gerzmava has been famous in the opera world since 1994, when at age 24 the Abkhazian-Russian soprano won the Grand Prix at Tchaikovsky International Competition, entering its history as the first and only vocalist to have been awarded the highest prize.

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

Die schweigsame Frau, Munich

If Strauss’s operas of the 1920s receive far too little performing attention, especially in the Anglosphere, those of the 1930s seem to fare worse still.

Sara Gartland Takes on Jenůfa

Sara Gartland is an emerging singer who brings an enormous talent and a delightful personality to the opera stage. Having sung lighter soprano roles such as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Gartland is now taking on the title role in Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Jenůfa.



Victorien Sardou (1831-1908)
24 Oct 2005

Victorien Sardou — A Tale of Two Operas

Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) was a popular French dramatist during the later half of the 19th Century. He, along with Eugène Scribe, combined melodrama and realism to a produce a more serious form of drama that emphasized careful plot construction.

This style is generally referred to as “well-made plays.” He was seated at the Academy in 1878. His initial efforts were poorly received. Through the connections of his wife, Pauline Virginie Dejazet began to perform his plays that enabled her to perform youthful roles even at the age of 65. Sardou then began writing plays for Sarah Bernhardt, which include Fédora (1882) and La Tosca (1887). Sardou’s close connection with Bernhardt has been criticized:

[T]he career of one of the very best endowed theatrical composers of the nineteenth century, the late Victorien Sardou, has been molded and restricted for all time by the talents of a single star performer, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt. Under the influence of Eugene Scribe, Sardou began his career at the Theatre Francais with a wide range of well-made plays, varying in scope from the social satire of Nos Intimes and the farcical intrigue of Les Pattes de Mouche (known to us in English as The Scrap of Paper) to the tremendous historic panorama of Patrie. When Sarah Bernhardt left the Comedie Francaise, Sardou followed in her footsteps, and afterwards devoted most of his energy to preparing a series of melodramas to serve successively as vehicles for her. Now, Sarah Bernhardt is an actress of marked abilities, and limitations likewise marked. In sheer perfection of technique she surpasses all performers of her time. She is the acme of histrionic dexterity; all that she does upon the stage is, in sheer effectiveness, superb. But in her work she has no soul; she lacks the sensitive sweet lure of Duse, the serene and starlit poetry of Modjeska. Three things she does supremely well. She can be seductive, with a cooing voice; she can be vindictive, with a cawing voice; and, voiceless, she can die. Hence the formula of Sardou's melodramas.

His heroines are almost always Sarah Bernhardts,-luring, tremendous, doomed to die. Fedora, Gismonda, La Tosca, Zoraya, are but a single woman who transmigrates from play to play. We find her in different countries and in different times; but she always lures and fascinates a man, storms against insuperable circumstance, coos and caws, and in the outcome dies. One of Sardou's latest efforts, La Sorciere, presents the dry bones of the formula without the flesh and blood of life. Zoraya appears first shimmering in moonlight upon the hills of Spain,-dovelike in voice, serpentining in seductiveness. Next, she is allowed to hypnotise the audience while she is hypnotising the daughter of the governor. She is loved and she is lost. She curses the high tribunal of the Inquisition,-a dove no longer now. And she dies upon cathedral steps, to organ music. The Sorceress is but a lifeless piece of mechanism; and when it was performed in English by Mrs. Patrick Campbell, it failed to lure or to thrill. But Sarah Bernhardt, because as an actress she is Zoraya, contrived to lift it into life. Justly we may say that, in a certain sense, this is Sarah Bernhardt's drama instead of Victorien Sardou's. With her, it is a play; without her, it is nothing but a formula. The young author of Patrie promised better things than this. Had he chosen, he might have climbed to nobler heights. But he chose instead to write, year after year, a vehicle for the Muse of Melodrama, and sold his laurel crown for gate-receipts.
[Clayton Hamilton, The Theory of the Theatre and Other Principles of Dramatic Criticism, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1910]

His later plays tended to have an historical setting. La Tosca, for example, takes place in Rome while the Battle of Marengo (14 June 1800) is being fought in the Piedmont between Napoleon and the Austrians.

Sardou’s plays were highly sought after as librettos for operas. The two operas chosen here are Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca and Umberto Giordano’s Fedora. They have been chosen not merely to illustrate how two composers approached Sardou’s well-made plays, but to show how one succeeds masterfully while the other achieves at best mixed results.

Related Links:

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):