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Voltaire, La Pucelle

CORISANDRE, OU LES FOUX PAR ENCHANTEMENT (1791)

COMÉDIE-OPÉRA (Ballet-Opéra) EN TROIS ACTES de Honoré Langlé (1741-1807)

 

 

Below is a brief introduction to the charming and entertaining Comédie-opéra Corisandre, ou les foux par enchantement, by the eighteenth century monegasque composer Honoré Langlé, which would merit an awakening from its 218-year slumber.

 

The edition of this opera (including Full Score, Vocal Score and Orchestral parts) was prepared in 2005 for the Opéra de Monte-Carlo’s inaugural season in Monaco’s newly refurbished Salle Garnier, but still awaits performance.

Théâtre de la Porte St. Martin

Théâtre de la Porte Saint Martin, (architect Lenoir) home to l’Académie Royale de Musique during the period in which Corisandre was premiered on March 8, 1791.  In the wake of the revolutionary events, the name was changed to l’Opéra three months later, then to l’Opéra du Peuple in 1802.

ACT I

 

Scene I – III

The curtain rises to reveal a fortified castle with its open drawbridge, seen through a dark forest. A furious storm is underway.

 

Two noble French couples, Florestan and Agnes, Roger and Dorothée, pursued by their English enemies find they have stumbled into the realm of the famous wizard Agramant. The spell of sorceress Corisandre, the pupil of Agramant, causes all noblemen who lay eyes on her to lose their minds and hearts. Convinced of their own fidelity, the noble Florestan and Roger want to confront the sorceress and her diabolical teacher in the name of honour and glory. The bachelor Dulcindor is ready for combat but prefers Venus’ (love’s) charms to those of Mars (war).

 

Scene IV - Vl

Florestan's squire Lourdis rushes in to announce the imminent arrival of the enemies, the English noblemen Chandos and Tirconel. They appear as Dulcindor muses on his desire of winning Corisandre for himself. The English nobles force Lourdis to tell them who owns the castle. Lourdis explains they are now in the realm of Agramant the wizard, who has cast the evil spell of madness on all noblemen who set eyes on Corisandre--any spell will last until the moment that Corisandre herself falls in love.

 

Tirconel hopes to defeat the Frenchmen and seduce their beloved in the name of Glory and Love, however his war-worn compatriot Chandos considers love's tenderness a weakness.

 

Scene VII - VIII

The French and English engage in battle, but are interrupted by the apparition of a woman accompanied by a dwarf on the castle's ramparts. She invites them to stop and focus on a more worthy battle awaiting them inside the castle gates: to defeat Agramant and Corisandre's spell.

 

Scene IX - X

The drawbridge lowers as the gates open to reveal vast turrets and porticos. The wives despair as they see both the French and English noblemen rush in to face their adversaries. Agramant the wizard appears, challenges the noblemen, and announces the arrival of their sovereign, Corisandre. Her glance at the retinue is indifferent, because she is transfixed by the servant Lourdis. The madness of the spell takes effect and all but Lourdis are transformed. Florestan believes he is Orestes pursued by the furies, Roger mentally transforms into a savage, Chandos becomes a giggling troubadour, Tirconel a shepherd of Astrée, and Bachelor Dulcindor, a pretty girl, delighted by his/her appeal. Only Lourdis is unaffected by the spell.

 

The noble women despair, as the chorus sings the praises of their beloved sovereign, Corisandre, who subjugates all--or nearly all--to her power.

 

 

 

ACT II

 

Scene I - III

Agramant sits amidst the vast splendors of his palace and explains to his councilor Largail, the reason for his deep sadness- he is in love with his pupil Corisandre. Not only is she indifferent to his love, but he Agramant will forfeit his magical powers if she falls in love with someone else.

 

Corisandre arrives, clearly searching for Lourdis, while Agramant repeats his daily declaration of love. Corisandre responds with polite but bored indifference. Her frustrated teacher, Agramant conjures up the spirits to lavish his pupil with the most flattering gifts and sweetest pleasures, showering her with diamonds.

 

Scene IV

Dulcindor, the bachelor, is dressed up as a pretty girl and tries to seduce Lourdis. Dulcindor misinterprets Lourdis’ love for Corisandre as romantic interest for himself, so subsequently accuses the sorceress of being a hussy. In a fit of jealousy, Dulcindor gives Corisandre a lesson in how to seduce a man with grace and subtlety.

 

Lourdis declares his love to Corisandre, which she cautiously reciprocates.

 

Scene V

Florestan/Orestes, pursued by his imaginary furies, believes the pretty bachelor Dulcindor to be his sister Iphigénie. (Here, Langlé parodies Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, lifting the music from Act II, Scene 3 textually.)

 

Finale (replaces Scene VI – VIII)

Chandos, believing himself a troubadour, kicks off a huge ensemble of general madness, where each character affirms that he is the only one left unscathed by the spell of madness.

 

Original Scenes from the printed libretto, later censured:

Scene VI

Chandos sings of human foibles in great troubadour tradition, exalting pleasure over combat. He goes on to give poetic voice to the Voltairian ideal. He sings of the vast horizon that opens before his eyes: all peoples united in peace, all social classes combined; an empire where only talent and virtue reign, where, for the good of France, the Den of Bickering is transformed into a Tribune of Peace; a world full of wise poets, modest academics and unselfish authors, where the madmen of today are the sages of tomorrow.

 

Corisandre, startled by the fervor of the madman, calls upon Agramant to help calm the situation.

 

Scene VII-VIII

The nobleman turn their fury against Agramant, who in retaliation conjurs up goblins, spirits and fire-eating dragons to subdue them.

 

 

 

ACT III

 

Scene I

Agramant descends to Merlin’s tomb to consult the Oracle. Here he finds out that Corisandre will indeed become sensitive towards love, and that he, Agramant will fulfill his destiny. He rejoices, presuming that Corisandre’s love will be his.

 

Scene II-IV

In an amorous game of archery, Lourdis arrives to correct Corisandre's aim.

 

Agramant believes Corisandre's declarations of love are meant for him, when in reality they are intended for Lourdis. Believing Lourdis to be under the spell of madness, Agramant assumes Lourdis' romantic declarations are meant for Dulcindor. The delighted Dulcindor encourages Lourdis.

 

Scene V-VI

As Agramant realizes that Corisandre has become sensitive towards Love, and therefore that his own demise is imminent, the five madmen beseech him to regain his senses. Confusion and delirium at its height, Folly rings his bells announcing the arrival of Corisandre. Folly launches an arrow toward Corisandre and sheds his cloak to reveal his true identity, Love. Lightening strikes and Love's shedded cloak enshrouds the wizard Argamant; the mountain swallows him up and transforms him into his own tomb.

 

The clouds descend to reveal Lourdis kneeling affectionately at Corisandre’s feet while kissing her hand.

 

The evil spell is broken, since Corisandre’s heart has clearly been pierced by Love’s arrow: the madmen regain their sanity.

 

FINALE

Love reveals a magnificent palace with Corisandre and Lourdis seated on a throne flanked by Sylphs, the noblemen and their spouses, and the French populace. Together they sing the praises of Love's triumph.

 

Intended as a guide for theatre directors or agents not necessarily familiar with the opera, the following is a List of Characters, Role descriptions and Vocality descriptions, useful in the programming or casting stages of the opera. The Vocality descriptions are necessarily subjective, but perhaps useful.

 

(The roles, in order of importance are: Corisandre, Agramante, Dulcindor, Lourdis, Florestan, Chandos, etc.)

 

Page numbers correspond to the Vocal Score, available on request.

CHARACTER

ROLE

VOCALITY

DESCRIPTION

* = determining factor

FLORESTAN

 

French Nobleman

Haute-Contre

(sings in chest voice during Mad Scene P.197 bass clef)

 

Noble sound, no real coloratura. Leaps as baritone in Mad Scene.

Leading role:

Act I

-*duett p.27

-*aria p.40

-Quintet p.47

-*(as baritone?) Scene p.205 and Quartet p.210

-various recit.s and ensembles

 

ROGER

French Nobleman

Baritone,

(although printed  in the manuscript as the lowest voice (below Chandos)

Smallish supporting role: (almost no aria)

-recit. p.38

-quintett p.47

-recit. And ensemble p.90

-Finale I p.99

-nothing until:

*arietta with chorus/ballet p.324

-various ensembles until

end

CHANDOS

English Nobleman

Bass-Baritone

Although slightly higher tessitura than the baritone Roger (high for a Bass with a certain amount of agility), dramatically and colour-wise definitely a bass.

Important supporting role:

-recit. p.75

-*Aria pg. 80 (placed quite high)

-recit. p.88, 98

-*aria p.218

-quintett p.225

-various ensembles and recit.s

TIRCONEL

English Noblemen

Tenor

Small role:

Recit. p.75, 79, 87

-Ensembles Finale I p.89

-nothing until:

ballet p.324

-ensembles p.331 until end

LOURDIS

Squire of Florestan

Tenor

Not particularly high, a little bit of agility. Typical Mozart tenor.

Romantic Lead role:

-*recit. and Duett p.68

-recit. p.75

-Duet p.184

-*Recit. and Aria p. 199 (some agility)

-*duet p.282

-recit and quartett p.307

-various recit.s, most ensembles

AGNÈS

Beloved of Florestan

Soprano

Noble sound, to couple with Florestan.

Lies quite high.

Supporting role:

-*Opening duet p.27

-recit. p.32

-*Aria p.35

-recit. And quintett p. 46

-various recits,

then nothing to sing until Finale p.373

DOROTHÉE

Beloved of Roger

(Mezzo-) Soprano

Very small supporting role, but on stage quite a bit not singing (stage presence and acting ability important):

-recit. P.39

-quintett p.47

-Finale I p.99

- then nothing to sing until Finale p.373

DULCINDOR

Bachelor

Haute-Contre or Contraltist.

Comic abilityvery important, frequent agility (p.56), but also lots of elegant phrasing

Lead Comic Role:

-*recit. and quintett p.46

-*aria p.65

-recit. P.68

-*duett p.69

-*duett p.184

-*recit. P.194

-*aria p.195

-quartett p.210

-quintett p.225

-recit. P.306, various ensembles until end

 

AGRAMANT

Sorcerer

Tenor

Some coloratura, as well as long phrases.

Lead Antagonist Role:

-Recit. P.96

-Finale I p.99

-recit. p.139

-*aria p.144

-recit. p.152, 153

-*Cantabile p.158

-*duett p.160

-recit.168

-recit. P.260

-*arioso p.262

-*arioso p.269, 271

-recit. P.300

-*duett p.301

-Quartett p.308

-recit. 329 and ensemble

LARGAIL

 

Agramant’s confidant

Bass or Bass-Baritone

Small supporting role

Recit p.139, 152, 260

CORISANDRE

Sorceress, pupil of Agramant

Coloratura soprano (lots of agility). Lies quite high: vocally similar to Konstanze in Entführung aus dem Serailto or Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare (but with higher extension.) Stage presence important.

-recit. p. 153

-duet p.159, 160

-**ariette p.176

-recit. P.182, p.194, p.204

-quartett p. 210

-quintett p.225

-*duett p.282

-recit.293

-*duett p.295

-recit. P.305

-quartett p.308

-recit. And ensembles until end

-arioso p.372 (unless sung by Amour, a character called for in the libretto, but not in the manuscript score)

UNE DAME

Lady of Corisandre’s court

Soprano

(like Voice of Diana in Iphigénie en Tauride)

Could logically be sung by one of the Coriphées

-One recitative p.92

Trois

CORIPHÉES

 

1 Soprano,

1 Mezzo Soprano or Soprano II,

1 Haute-Contre

(from chorus)

-Melodic phrase p.100 (2 Sopranos, or 1 Soprano and one Mezzo Soprano)

-Melodic phrase p.172 (1 Soprano, 1 Haute-Contre)

-recit. p.175

OMBRE DE MERLIN

 

Bass

(like La Voce in Idomeneo)

 

-One important phrase

p. 274

NON-SINGING ROLES:

Corisandre’s court, Magicians, Goblins, Cupid, The Pleasures

 

List of Characters

 

FLORESTAN, ROGER

French Noblemen

 

CHANDOS, TIRCONEL

English Noblemen

 

LOURDIS

Squire of Florestan

AGNÈS

Beloved of Florestan

 

DOROTHÉE

Beloved of Roger

 

DULCINDOR

Bachelor

AGRAMANT

Sorcerer

LARGAIL

Agramant’s confidant

 

CORISANDRE

young beauty, Agramant’s pupil

 

L’AMOUR

Love (Cupid)

 

UNE DAME

Lady of Corisandre’s court

 

THREE CORIPHÉES

 

Corisandre’s court, Magicians, Goblins, Cupid, The Pleasures

 

 

Short Biography of Honoré François Marie Langlé

 

Born in Monaco in 1741, he studied at the renowned Conservatiorio della Pietà dei Turchini in Naples from 1756 to 1764. He managed the theatre and noblemen’s concerts in Genova from 1764 to 1768, before settling in Paris. His first Parisian works were performed at the Concert Spirituel, and he scored enormous successes with Corisandre as well as with Antiochus et Stratonice at the Académie Royale de Musique, before being swept away by the events of the revolution. He was professor of singing at the École Royale de Chant et de Déclamation from 1784 before he helped found the Conservatoire de Paris, writing various treatises including Traité d'harmonie et de modulation, Nouvelle methode pour chiffrer les accords, Traité de la basse sous le chant, Traité de la fugue, and a Methode de chant.

 

His style in Corisandre demonstrates a dramatic and comedic flare. Aided by his well-balanced orchestration, he skilfully unites his basically Neapolitan musical style with typically French elements, and finely runs the full dramatic gamut from a tender lyric style to broad-side parody. He died in Villier-le-Bel, near Paris in 1807.

Voltaire

The play, based on Voltaire's La Pucelle, may easily be interpreted as a political allegory: only the reciprocal love of Corisandre (France) for Lourdis (the populace) can cure the madness inflicted on the noblemen by the evil sorcerer Agramant (l'ancien regime or the Church) who holds Corisandre hostage to his possessive and dominating love. Importantly, in Voltaire’s original work, Corisandre’s name was Jeanne (of course, Jeanne d’Arc is known as la Pucelle d’Orléans.)

 

First performed on March 8, 1791 with the French Revolution well under way (two years after the storming of the Bastille, a year after the Assembly abolishes titles of Nobility, and three months before Louis XVI and his family attempt to flee from France). However, the censure clearly still held considerable sway, as the original printed libretto contains a considerable amount of blatantly revolutionary text that was not set to music or that was replaced with tamer, albeit more humorous text.

ORCHESTRA :

2 Flutes (doubling piccolo)

2 Oboes

2 Clarinets

2 Bassoons

 

4 Horns

2 Trumpets

3 Trombones

Timpani

Cymbals

 

Strings

 

 

DOUBLE CHORUS :

52 people in all, according to the Paris Libretto: Chorus I contains 11 women and 14 men, Chorus II contains 11 women and 12 men (although it looks like 2 may have been missing). When not specified as Chorus I or II, the two choruses sing together. They are divided up as:

Dessus, (Sopranos)

Haute-Contres

Tailles (tenors) and

Basses

(chorus in Act III, Scene I: HC, Taille, Basse T)

 

 

BALLET:

At the premier, the Ballets were divided up into acts:

Act I: 8 Sylphes and Sylphides, 10 Enfants

Act II: 11 Sylphes and Sylphides, 12 Lutins

Act III: 3 Magiciens plus the 12 Lutins from Act II, Fous de plusieurs manières, 8 Enfants, 10 Français et Françaises, 13 Sylphes and Sylphides (including the 11 from Act II), 11 Provenceaux.

Many of the same dancers performed in all three acts.

Corisandre tessiture

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Corisandre, Printed page
Corisandre I.1Playback.MID

Click for a very brutal computer rendering of the opening storm chorus Ô Ciel! Ô nuit effroyable!

Honoré Langlé