Albéric Magnard: ‘Guercœur’- An Opera in III Acts
The allegorical figures of
Justicia, left, and Veritas, right,
by Walter Seymour Allward, c. 1920.
Installed in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in 1970.
(Photos by Carol L. Douglas)
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is ‘an opera, ‘Guercœur”, by French Composer Albéric Magnard, set in three acts to his own libretto. It was first performed posthumously at the Paris Opéra on 24 April 1931, though it had mostly been written between 1897 and 1901. The composer died trying to save his house from the invading Germans at the beginning of World War I in 1914 and the score was partially destroyed in the resulting fire. Magnard’s close friend Jean-Guy Ropartz reconstructed by an extraordinary act of memory, having heard them once on the piano reduction, the missing sections so the opera could be staged.’ (Wikipedia)🌿’In this poem-because ‘Guercœur’ is much more a poem than the typical libretto of a opera- Alberic Magnard exposed his most personal ideas and feelings. The symbolic drama form, seemed to him appropriate to manifest his thoughts. He was, in his esotericism, influenced by the Rosicrucians of Joséphin Péladan and his ‘Salon de la Rose+Croix’, and in his social conceptions, by Charles Fourier and August Comte.’ (Nicholas Fuller at Opera scribe)🌿This very recording of ‘Guercœur’ is with us since our late adolescence, years and years ago, and the first hearing brought such beautiful tears, as it was so alien and of a rare craft; its uplifting message of ‘hope after the storm‘ helped us ever since cope with the unceasing insanities of the world. We keep coming back to it and listen to its powerful message and to its high and demanding values. It’s been for us a light-house shining its humanist light in the soulless and merciless darkness of our time.
Acts I and III: Heaven.
Act II: On Earth, in a free town.
VÉRITÉ [Truth]-Grand soprano.
The ghost of a woman-Mezzo.
The ghost of a maiden-Soprano.
The ghost of a poet-Tenor.
HEURTAL – Tenor.
Men and women of the people- Chorus.
Illusions of Love and Glory -Chorus
Guercœur, the wise ruler of a medieval city-state, has died in battle defending his people. In Heaven, he begs to be allowed to return to earth to save his city. His wish is granted but he finds his best friend and disciple, Heurtal, has become the lover of his widow, Giselle, and is planning to rule as a despot after marrying her.
Shocked, Guercœur attempts to convince the people to reject corruption, but they become increasingly angry with him, and in the end he is murdered.
Disillusioned with humanity, he returns to heaven, where he is greeted by the Goddess of Truth. She assures him that despite human weaknesses, a great age of humanity lies ahead.
III. The opera
Cast: Jose Van Dam, Hildegard Behrens, Nathalie Stutzmann, Gary Lakes, Nadine Denize, Jean-Luc Viala, Anne Salvan, Michèle Lagrange, Hélène Jossoud and Orfeon Donostiarra. Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse conducted by Michel Plasson. Recording in 1986.
Excerpt from a review:
‘Jose van Dam is outstanding in the title-role—a performance of nobility and sensitivity—and Hildegard Behrens authoritative as the ruler of Heaven, but the opera is strongly cast throughout, with notable small-part contributions from Michele Lagrange, Nathalie Stutzmann and Jean-Luc Viala. Michel Plasson once again shows his skill at pacing the action and in securing impassioned playing from his orchestra. The Basque chorus produce attractive tone but unfortunately often let the pitch sag slightly, and their words are rarely intelligible without recourse to the libretto—though in Act 1 this may be partly due to excessively distant placing. Overall, however, this is a distinct success, and the French Ministry of Culture (which backed this recording) and EMI are to be thanked for bringing out of obscurity a remarkable work which, like Chausson’s Le Roi Arthus (from a very similar background), admirably exemplifies a neglected and scarcely known period of French opera.‘ From a review by Lionel Salter for ‘Gramophone’.
The complete score of ‘Guercoeur’,
as a reduction for piano and voices:
As a bonus,
here is his
‘Hymn to Venus’
‘Hymn to Justice’
And…Don’t miss his impressive 4 symphonies
and his chamber works 🙂