A significant place in the repertoire of the St. Petersburg Opera is taken by the cycle called “Operetta in the Opera House”.
A significant place in the repertoire of the St. Petersburg Opera is taken by the cycle called “Operetta in the Opera House”. One of the rare gems of this genre is the work of Robert Planquette The Bells of Corneville (Les cloches de Corneville).
The premiere of the play took place in 1877 and was a sensational success, the operetta withstood more than 400 performances in Paris, after which it began its triumphal march around the world, the audience enthusiastically received it in London and even in New York City.
The popularity of The Bells of Corneville was ensured by the romantic plot and, of course, the music. The multicolored palette of the score contained dance rhythms, spectacular ensemble numbers, sparkling couplets and extended arias. Catchy melodies instantly scattered, they were played everywhere: from aristocratic salons to organ grinders on the streets... However, today Planquette’s operetta has become an undeservedly forgotten rarity, which inspired the theatre’s artistic director Yuri Alexandrov to bring it back from oblivion.
“Honestly, it’s a mystery to me why Planquette’s work is now so rarely performed on stage, because the melodic material is divine, each number is unique... And the plot! An infinitely beautiful story about an eighteenth-century girl and a prince who turned her life upside down... There is everything: noble heroes, ancient haunted castles and even the dramatic line of a father who looks like the main character of Pushkin's “The Covetous Knight...” Our performance is a luxurious fairy tale for adults, for everyone who wants to escape from everyday life, plunge into beauty and dream,” Yuri Alexandrov said.
While waiting for the fair, the girls gossip that Germaine refuses to marry an old judge, since she has a young lover, Grenicheux. “No, Grenicheux is Serpoletta’s lover,” says Manette. This phrase causes a real explosion: a furious Serpolette erupts into a whole cascade of gossip. Having dealt with her girlfriends, Serpolette laments her “hard life” with her adoptive father, Gaspard, suggesting that she is a foundling of noble birth ...
The Judge and Gaspard appear. The wealthy farmer Gaspard proposes to the Judge his niece Germaine, who has recently returned from the boarding house. The judge tries to resist, claiming that he is already, to put it mildly, not young ... In the distance the song “Swim, my boat” sounds - this is the fisherman Grenicheux, he is waiting for Germaine. Serpolette, as usual, begins to flirt with him, but Grenicheux, dreaming of a successful marriage to Gaspard’s niece, sends Serpolette out. An explanation takes place between Germaine and Grenicheux. Germaine recalls how recently, walking along the seashore, she fell into the water from a high cliff. When she woke up, she saw Grenicheux and, in gratitude for her salvation, vowed to become his wife. Grenicheux demands a declaration of love, but Germaine, following the Norman tradition, does not answer him either yes or no...
Girls come to the Place de Corneville, a stranger with them. He introduces himself as a captain, but in reality he is Marquis de Corneville, nephew of the Comte de Lucneuil, the last owner of Corneville. The captain (marquis) asks the villagers what kind of gloomy castle can be seen in the distance and why everyone bypasses it. Germaine tells the legend of Corneville. Marquis is delighted with the lovely girl. Gaspard takes Germaine away and urges everyone to go to the fair.
Left alone, Marquis recalls his many adventures, one of which he remembered for the rest of his life. Once he saved a girl who fell from a cliff into the sea, but since a ship was waiting for him, he was forced to leave a stranger in the care of a fisherman who happened to be nearby. The image of this girl disturbs his heart...
Serpolette is back in the center of the action. Everyone whispers: there is always a scandal where this girl is ... Serpolette says that she saw Grenicheux kissing Germaine. Gaspard is furious. Grenicheux runs away. Everyone is commenting lively on what is happening.
Fair. Here, according to the laws of Corneville, contracts are concluded with footmen, coachmen, maids. After the notary completes the deal, the servant passes into the master's power. Grenicheux is trying to take advantage of this to avoid Gaspard’s anger. At the fair, the Marquis, fascinated by the “dragonfly,” as he calls Serpolette, hires her as a maid. Recognizing Grenicheux hiding under the judge’s wig, Serpolette convinces Marquis to take him as a coachman. Having signed the contract with a notary, Grenicheux and Serpolette rejoice at their newfound freedom. Gaspard is looking for an escaped niece at the fair. Not finding her, he decides to continue searching. After he leaves, Germaine appears, who is also looking for salvation in hiring. To the girls’ gossip, she sings the maid’s song. Marquis, who recognizes Germaine, takes her as a servant. Gaspard appears again. He tries to play a heart attack, but, despite all his tricks, Germaine is already out of his power, according to Corneville’s law.
Germaine and Marquis, accompanied by Serpolette, Grenicheux and the Judge, enter Corneville Castle in the hope of uncovering its secret. Everyone is shaking with fear, walking around the abandoned premises. Only Germaine surprised Marquis with her courage. Marquis reveals his incognito and demands from the Judge a report on the management of the castle, but he cannot say anything intelligible. The search for evidence continues ... Someone found the keys, someone found candles and a jug of water, and Marquis brings a briefcase with old documents. And - oh, incredible news! - from the letter of the Comte de Lucneuil it becomes known that he left his little daughter and all his fortune to save Gaspard. “This child, the daughter of the count, it's me!” - exclaims Serpolette, glad that her fantasies of noble birth were confirmed.
The enamored Marquis is unhappy with the relationship between Germaine and Grenicheux. The girl explains that she must become the wife of a fisherman, as she vowed to give her hand to her savior ... Marquis is outraged by the deception. The reprisal against Grenicheux is delayed by the appearance of a sailor, who saw a boat approaching the castle. Everyone is wondering who it is. Marquis dresses Grenicheux in armor and tells the others to hide.
Meanwhile, a ghost appears in the hall. It turns out to be Gaspard. Having seized the wealth of the count, the old man for many years portrayed the ghost of Corneville, frightening off anyone who might enter the castle. He takes out the treasured chest and admires his treasures. Suddenly he begins to hear some rustles, visions... Gaspard is frightened, he tries to convince himself that the only ghost in the castle is himself. Suddenly there is a ringing of bells, and then a mysterious singing ... Gaspard goes crazy with horror.
Having lost his mind, Gaspard walks around the neighborhood... Serpolette and Grenicheux appear, and their look causes everyone’s fun. Serpolette is trying to prove her position in society. The judge expresses doubts about her origin, but he has no evidence. Serpolette, imitating noble ladies, invites all the residents of Corneville to a feast in his castle. Meanwhile, Marquis, watching over Grenicheux, makes him confess to the deception. Germaine herself hears it by chance. She is happy, but refuses to marry Marquis, because she is just the niece of a simple peasant who also committed a crime. Gaspard comes to the party. A pang of conscience clears his mind. He gives the judge a piece of paper torn from the register of births. It turns out that the Vicomtesse de Lucenay is Germaine, whom the old man passed off as his niece... Bells came to life on the tower of the Corneville castle, announcing a new happy life. And Serpolette? She, as it turns out, is not very upset by her reverse transformation into a simple peasant woman...
The Corneville Castle, abandoned many years ago, rises gloomily, immersed in sadness and desolation. Previously, a joyful bell ringing was always heard in the castle, but now mysterious lights light up there at night. Locals are sure that ghosts live in the castle, and the bells will ring again only when the rightful owner of Corneville returns to the castle...
The leading soloists of the St. Petersburg Opera present a concert of opera arias performed to the accompaniment of harp and fantasies on themes from famous operas.
The famous opera by Puccini is interpreted as a story about the tragic contradiction between the dream and the prose of existence.