Libretto by Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps
Based upon the Libretto as revised by Walter Burg
An exciting new version of the rarely-seen Meyerbeer opera
Jan Popper, Conductor
Lotfi Mansouri, Stage Director
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday
May 9, 11, 12, 1971
Royce Hall, UCLA
Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre and sister of King Charles IX of France
Valentine, daughter of Count de Saint-Bris and maid of honor to Marguerite
Urbain, page to Marguerite
Count de Saint-Bris
Count de Nevers
Raoul de Nangis, Huguenot nobleman
Marcel, Huguenot soldier and servant to Raoul
Bois-Rosé, Huguenot soldier
Catholic and Huguenot noblemen, ladies of the court, servants, townspeople, Catholic and Huguenot soldiers, students, gypsies, archers, magistrates, monks.
The action takes place in August 1572, the first act in Touraine, the second and third acts in Paris. Approximately one week elapses between acts.
At the time of the action, France witnesses an uneasy truce between the Catholic faction, headed by Queen-Mother Catherine de Medicis, and the Huguenot faction, led by Admiral Gaspard de Coligny.
A public park in Paris bordering on the Seine. In the middle ground two small taverns flanked by benches. In the background a Catholic church. Huguenot soldiers with their female drinking companions sit on one side of the stage, while Catholic students and their girls sit on the other. Townspeople promenade about, enjoying the afternoon and extolling the pleasures of Sunday, the day of carefree rest. Maurevert enters in conversation with another nobleman. In answer to the latter’s question, he relates that Nevers, hearing of Valentine’s rejection, has asked again for her hand. Continuing their conversation, the two noblemen lose themselves in the crowd.
At this moment, the Huguenot soldiers intone a vigorous refrain, imitating with their hands the roll of drums. In a chorus led by Bois-Rosé, they sing of the fortunes of war and of its spoils. With great enthusiasm, they voice their affection for their leader, the “father” Coligny. The mood changes as a group of chanting Catholic girls appears forming part of a solemn procession. Accompanied by their relatives and friends, Nevers and Valentine approach the church. A soldier, with glass in hand and slightly inebriated, rises and advances toward the procession. The crowd reacts with indignation and the soldier returns to his seat. However, his comrades take up the taunt by harassing the Catholics, who in turn menace the Huguenots. As tempers flare and a serious altercation threatens, a band of gypsies appears and diverts the crowd by offering their fortuning-telling art. A lively dance follows, lightening the mood still further.
Meanwhile the marriage ceremony has been concluded. Saint-Bris leaves the church together with Nevers, who tells his father-in-law that Valentine has asked to be left at the alter in prayer. He departs but will return to lead his cherished wife home in pomp. Maurevert joins Saint-Bris, who exults over this marriage which Queen Marguerite approved and which has restored his honor. However, he still thirsts for revenge. At this moment, Marcel appears with a note from his master. Both have just arrived from Touraine with the Queen. With glowing satisfaction, Saint-Bris reveals to Maurevert that Raoul has challenged him to a duel to be fought in the park later that night. Marcel, hearing this, is appaulled. He leaves to report to Raoul that his challenge has been accepted. When Saint-Bris warns Maurevert not to alert his son-in-law to the impending duel, his friend counters that Saint-Bris himself need not be exposed to any danger. He has a plan which he will divulge in the privacy of the church. Both leave as an archer appears to call out the hour of curfew. The people disperse, some entering the taverns. Night has fallen and the park is deserted.
With an air of secrecy, Saint-Bris and Maurevert leave the church. Having agreed that Maurevert will return with reinforcements, they depart. A moment later, Valentine appears in the church door. Hidden from everyone, she has overheard the plot to ambush Raoul. Horrified at this treachery, she realizes that she alone can help Raoul., but despairs at not knowing how he can be warned. Hearing footsteps, she slips away quietly. Marcel has returned to be by the side of his master. Assailed by forebodings, he vows to follow Raoul in death should the latter fall. A noise alerts him as a veiled woman emerges from the darkness. Valentine has come forth to reveal her knowledge of the impending duel and to warn that Raoul should come to the encounter only if accompanied in strength. Marcel hastens away, and Valentine pours out her passion for the man who alone lives in her heart in spite of the cruel injustice which he has inflicted upon her.
Soon Marcel returns in great agitation. He has recalled that his master is no longer at this quarters. If Raoul arrived at the appointed place during Marcel’s absence, he would be exposed to the threatening danger without defense and might perish calling in vain for support. Deciding to wait, the old soldier is troubled by doubts over his ability to help Raoul single-handedly and calls on God for assistance. As Valentine turns to leave, Marcel demands to know who she is. In ringing tones, she answers that she is a woman filled with an abiding love for Raoul whose life she values more than her own. She confesses that her sould is tormented by violently conflicting emotions and that, to save Raoul, she has betrayed both her honor and her father. Marcel is profoundly moved. Embracing the girl, he consoles and blesses her. To him, who has been taught that women are inclined to tempt men’s souls, Valentine’s action and words seem heaven-inspired. Again he tries to question her, but she escapes into the church.
As he starts to follow her, Saint-Bris and Raoul approach with their seconds. Marcel tries to warn Raoul of an impending threat, but the latter motions him away. Calling on the seconds to lay down the rules of the fight, Raoul voices his trust in destiny, a sentiment echoed by Saint-Bris and the seconds. As the latter proclaim that the duel is to be fought to the finish, Marcel implores God’s help for Raoul. Preparations for the duel progress, and some insulting remarks are made by one of the parties and countered by the other. Gloatingly, Saint-Bris expresses his confidence that Raoul will be slain. Just as the duel is to begin, Marcel cries out a warning. He has noticed the approach of Maurevert and his band of assassins. Hearing the Huguenot soldiers carousing in one of the taverns, Marcel calls on them with a thunderous voice. Soldiers and students pour forth, followed by their female companions, and a great brawl ensues in which the two factions menace each other with increasing fury.
At this moment, Queen Marguerite appears with her entourage. Dismayed that the fight between the religious parties greets her even in Paris, she demands to know the cause of the uproat. When Saint-Bris and Raoul accuse each other, Marcel steps forward and reveals the attempted ambush. He calls on Valentine who has just appeared from the church and is trying to lose herself in the crowd. Furiously, Saint-Bris steps into her path and tears the veil from her face. Aghast, he recognizes his daughter. Marguerite calls out in great surprise, and Valentine hastens to her with a cry of anguish. Raoul is thunderstruck to find that the woman, whom he had seen in a rendezvous with Nevers, has saved him from her father’s treachery. As Marguerite reveals the reason for Valentine’s visit to Nevers, Raoul curses his blind jealousy and begs abjectly for forgiveness. Wildly elated, Saint-Bris informs him of his daughter’s marriage concluded that very day. He then points to a magnificent barge which approaches on the Seine.
Nevers has come with the nuptial party to carry his wife to her new home. In tender words, he expresses his deep affection for her, and the crowd, unaware of Valentine’s tragic fate, greets the pair with wishes for a happy future. While Raoul rages against himself in helpless fury, Saint-Bris, Maurevert and his followers rejoice over the despair of their foe. At last, the nuptial party embarks and Queen Marguerite leaves with her entourage. The spectators disperse and only a few members of the opposing factions remain to continue their threats. Marcel tries to vain to console Raoul, whose eyes follow the barge with an expression of utter dejection.
A gallery in the mansion of the Count de Nevers in Paris. A large door at the back, a smaller door at each side. A window faces the street. Valentine is alone. Filled with despair, she prays that God erase from her memory the image of Raoul which follows her everywhere. Suddenly, Raoul appears in the room. He has come to see her for the last time. Valentine begs him to flee before her father and her husband, his implacable enemies, find him. Raoul refuses to leave in the face of this danger. However, when voices are heard, Valentine implores him to hide for the sake of her honor and he slips behind a tapestry. Valentine goes into an adjoining room, keeping the door partially open. Saint-Bris, Nevers, and several other Catholic noblemen enter. In solemn tones, Saint-Bris declares that he has called them together at the King’s behest to reveal a sacred plan which was conceived by Queen-Mother Catherine de Medicis but hwihch had not been decided upon until this very day. Asked by Saint-Bris whether they will join him in delivering the country from the scourge of recurring wars and in destroying their religious enemies, the noblemen pledge their support. Saint-Bris then proclaims that the time has come to eradicate the Huguenots forever. Those assembled are to take part in the execution of the heretics whom God has condemned.
While Nevers expresses his horror at the planned massacre, the other noblemen vow to serve in the sacred cause. Still hidden, Valentine prays that Raoul may be saved from the impending bloodbath. As the others pledge their loyalty to the King, Nevers declares that he is ready to meet the enemy in open combat but is not willing to stoop to murder. With great dignity, he points to the portraits of his ancestors, which include many soldiers but no assassins. Breaking his sword in front of Saint-Bris, he asks God to judge between them. Saint-Bris opens the door at the back and admits a group of magistrates and civic leaders who are commanded by Maurevert. As he orders his son-in-law to be seized and kept under guard until the following day, Valentine, aware of the growing peril to the hidden Raoul, invokes God’s mercy again.
Domniating the assembled crowd, Saint-Bris issues his commands for the massacre. As the first victim, Coligny is to be slain in his home. A ball given by the Huguenots in honor of the King and Queen of Navarre is to be invaded by the killers. The tolling of a bell will be the alert for the general slaughter, which is to commence at the sound of a second bell. Motioning the others to wait for him, Saint-Bris leaves the room. An ominous silence ensues, and Valentine, sensing her complete helplessness in the face of Raoul’s peril of discovery, commends him to God’s graces. Withdrawing into her room, she closes the door almost completely.
Saint-Bris returns accompanied by three monks carrying a number of white scarves. In solemn accents, the monks bless the swords of the assembled. Pointing to the white scarf which he wears, Saint-Bris declares that it is the symbol of the chosen. Together with the monks, he proclaims extinctin upon every heretic, be it a defeated soldier, an old man, a woman, or a child. Responding with growing fervor, the men brandish their swords and daggers. As the excitement reaches a fever pitch, Saint-Bris and the monks caution the others lest the clamor betray their plan and alert the intended victims. One after another they leave slowly to prepare for the massacre which is to begin at midnight.
For a brief moment, the gallery is deserted. Then Raoul lifts the tapestry cautiously. Convinced that he is alone, he rushes to the window, but is stopped by Valentine who appears hurriedly from her room. As he cries that he must alert his Huguenot brothers to the plot of their treacherous enemies, Valentine implores him to stay since leaving would mean certain death. With each trying to persuade the other, their passions grow more and more intense. Finally, in despair, Valentine openly declares her love for Raoul, claiming that his death would also be her own. Raoul is overwhelmed by this confession and, for the moment, everything else is forgotten. Again and again he repeats Valentine’s avowal of love. Almost beside himself, he begs her to join him in flight, but Valentine, aware of the mortal danger, refuses to leave. As he implores her again to flee, the tolling of a bell is heard.
Suddenly brought back to the present, Raoul recalls the sinister meaning of this sound. Once more, he insists on joining his friends in their plights, this time turning a deaf ear to Valentine’s most impassioned pleas. As their emotions soar, the bell sounds again. Urged to the window by Raoul, Valentine faints at the sight of the massacre. The bell continues to toll, and Raoul, entrusting Valentine to God’s care, tears open the window and leaps from view. While the bell is heard again, Valentine revives and raises herself with a cry of despair. (During a brief change of scenery, the music continues without interruption, contrasting the fury of aggression with the steadfastness of resistance.)
A Paris street. In the background a Protestant church with a large rear window facing the street. A wall with a small door adjoins the church. Clouds obscure the moon from time to time. Marcel, who is severely wounded, directs some women and children through the small door toward the church. Raoul enters. He is pale and his clothes are covered in blood. On seeing that the old soldier is wounded, Raoul clamors for revenge, but is restrained by Marcel who has lost all hope and is resigned to die together with the refugees in the church. As Raoul, unwilling to heed Marcel’s words, prepares to join the fight again, Valentine hurries onto the scene. She has come to bring Raoul the white scarf which would proclaim him a Catholic and would assure his safe conduct to the palace of Queen Marguerite. Raoul firmly refuses to yield. Even if he were to renounce his faith, there would still be an insurmountable gap between Valentine and himself. In response, Valentine reveals that Nevers has died a hero’s death. After escaping from his guards, he was slain by the assassins while defending a Huguenot. When Valentine pleads again with Raoul to follow her to safety, he begins to waiver. A gentle reminder from Marcel, however, restores his determination to remain true to his faith. He will stay with the old soldier at their place of worship and await death in his company.
Valentine, aware of the finality of Raoul’s decision, breaks forth in a passionate outburst. In words of ever increasing ecstasy, she declares that nothing shall separate them again and that, to be with him, she is willing to assume his faith even if it means risking her salvation. Joined in death and eternity, they will be united forever. Raoul embraces her passionately, repeating her avowal. Overjoyed with Valentine’s conversion, Marcel accedes to the lovers’ plea to serve as their minister and to bless the union of their hearts. At this moment, the muted strains of a chorale are heard, sung by the women who have sought refuge in the church. In a humble response to Marcel’s solemn words, Valentine and Raoul now to leave all earthly thoughts behind, looking forward to their union in death.
Marcel, progressively weakened by his wounds, concludes the service on a note of increasing urgency. As he blesses the two lovers, the chorale is heard again, only to be interrupted by threatening shouts and the din of arms. The assassins have broken into the sanctuary and clamor that the refugees recant or face death. With firm resolve the women refuse to yield. Valentine, who has hurried to the window, peers into the church praying fervently. Marcel has started to follow her but is forced to lean exhausted against a wall. Raoul, torn by conflicting emotions, has been unable to move. Again, the chorale is intoned, and Raoul, in a sudden burst of decision, draws his sword and rushes unnoticed through the small door. At this moment, a tremendous noise of arms is heard from the church, followed by the silence of death. Valentine buries her head in her hands. Marcel, who has sunk to the ground, expires with a sigh.
For a few seconds all is quiet. Then the silence is broken by a single shot from behind the wall. Valentine raises her head. Noticing that Raoul has left, she runs to Marcel and finds that he has died. She then searches frantically for Raoul. Meanwhile a chorus of assassins, heard from backstage, proclaims that God wants the blood of the heretics. Just as Valentine reaches the small door, left open by Raoul, the latter reappears, mortally wounded. He falls to the ground, and Valentine throws herself on her knees beside him, trying to come to his aid. The scene darkens as a cloud covers the moon.
Suddenly, Saint-Bris appears at the head of a small troop of soldiers. In response to his call, Raoul raises himself with a supreme effort. Crying out “Huguenot” he succumbs, unnoticed by Valentine who has thrown herself between him and the enemy. A moment later, there is a discharge as the soldiers fire at Saint-Bris’ command. Valentine is killed and falls over Raoul’s body. A soldier carrying a torch approaches the victims and Saint-Bris recognizes his daughter. With a cry, he rushes to her side. Then, raising his eyes, he gazes into the distance as if seeing a vision of unspeakable horror. While the soldiers stand frozen, the voices backstage again proclaim that God wants the blood of the heretics.