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Jules Massenet: Esclarmonde
06 Apr 2008

MASSENET: Esclarmonde

Esclarmonde: Opéra romanesque in four acts and eight tableaux.

Jules Massenet: Esclarmonde

Emperor Phorcas (Gwynne Howell), Esclarmonde (Joan Sutherland), Parséïs (Diana Montague), Enéas (Ryland Davies), Chevalier Roland (Ernesto Veronelli), Cléomer (Geoffrey Moses), The Bishop of Blois (Jonathan Summers), The Royal Opera, Richard Bonynge (cond.)
Live performance (in-house), 28 November 1983, Covent Garden, London.


Music composed by Jules Massenet. Libretto by Alfred Blau and Louis de Gramont after the French romance Partonopeus de Blois.

First Performance: 14 May 1889, Opéra-Comique (Théâtre Lyrique), Paris

Principal Characters:
Emperor Phorcas Bass
Esclarmonde, his daughter Soprano
Parséïs, her sister Mezzo-Soprano
Enéas, a Byzantine knight, fiancé to Parséïs Tenor
Chevalier Roland, Count of Blois Tenor
Cléomer, King of France Baritone
The Bishop of Blois Baritone


Act I

Phorcas, the Emperor of Byzantium, abdicates in favor of his daughter, Esclarmonde. He bestows upon her magical powers on the condition that she must ascend the throne alone until the end of her twentieth year. Then, a tournament will be held in which the victor will become her bridegroom. In the meantime, Esclarmonde's face must remain veiled. Esclarmonde confesses to her sister, Parséïs, to be in love with the knight, Roland. King Cléomer, however, has decided to have his daughter, Bathilde, marry Roland. Esclarmonde sends her beloved to an enchanted island, where she will seduce him. There Roland awakens in the arms of the princess. She offers to become his bride and to give him honor and glory, provided that he never discloses her identity. The next day Roland departs to Blois, which is under seige by the Saracens. Esclarmonde promises him that she will visit him every night wherever he may be. She gives him a magic sword.

Act II

Roland, victorious over the Saracens, refuses the hand of the princess Bathilde without explanation. The Bishop of Blois becomes suspicious and determines to force Roland to reveal his secret. Esclarmonde arrives that night. As the two lovers embrace, the Bishop enters and exorcizes Esclarmonde Her veil is torn off. She bids goodbye to Roland and disappears, escorted by the spirits of the fire.


Phorcas awkens his daughter and enjoins her to renounce Roland. Otherwise, he will die. Desparate, Roland enters a Byzantine tournament seeking death. Roland wins the tournament and, of course, Esclarmonde. The princess may now express her love and reveal her face.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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