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Arthur Bliss

Publisher: Novello & Co

The Olympians (1949)
Text Writer
J B Priestley
Publisher
Novello & Co Ltd
Category
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1949
Duration
2 Hours 30 Minutes
Chorus
SATB +ballet of girls
Soloist
11 soloists
Programme Note
Arthur Bliss The Olympians (1949)
BRIEF SYNOPSIS

Opening amid the mayhem of the slave uprising of August 1791 in Haiti, Toussaint L’Ouverture emerges as allpowerful in Saint-Dominigue. He tries vainly to negotiate with the French, decimates their forces, but is tricked into captivity. After his death in France, the French are routed and the independent black state of Haiti is created.

PROGRAMME NOTE

The story of the opera is based on the legend that when men ceased to believe in the deities of Olympus, some of these gods and goddesses became members of a troupe of strolling players, travelling the roads of Europe century after century. It is assumed, for the purposes of the story, that every hundred years of so on Midsummer Night, for a few hours, these gods-turned-players find themselves again in the possession of their divine powers.

The action of the opera takes place in a small town in the south of France in midsummer, 1836. The main human characters are Lavatte, a rich bourgeois; his daughter Madeleine, whom he intends to marry to an elderly nobleman; Hector, a young poet with whom she falls in love at an accidental meeting. The gods-turned-players are engaged by Lavatte to entertain the guests at a party to celebrate his daughter's engagement to the nobleman. This happens to fall on Midsummer's Day in the very year when the gods are due to regain their divine powers. They take a hand in the human story, casting a spell on Madeleine and Hector, bewitching the houseguests and thoroughly frightening Lavatte. The latter is eventually persuaded by the young lovers, aided and abetted by the local curé, to permit their marriage. He announces their engagement to the tired guests in the early morning. The gods' powers fade with the morning light and the opera closes as the gods, once more in the guise of old and weary players, start out again on their travels.

The most dramatic music commences at a moment when the party is at its height and the guests have begun to feel the effects of the magic of the gods. The women come crowding excitedly out of the house and Diana, now the goddess, appears in the courtyard and invokes the moon. She sings of the joys of the hunt in the moonlight and the chorus joyfully respond. Finally she awakens Madeleine, who is sleeping under the influence of a spell cast by Mercury, and together they lead the whole rout over the hills. At the close, their voices are heard high and clear on the hills. Other guests swarm out of the house and Bacchus, dragging a great wine cask, makes his appearance. The cask is broached as Bacchus and the chorus sing of the youth of the world, of wine and the delights of love, leading into an Ode to Venus, who now appears in the full glory of her beauty. Hector is bewitched by the appearance of Venus, despite the protests of Madeleine, and joins Bacchus and the chorus in a further salutation to her. Finally, Jupiter himself, the father of the gods, appears in majesty, and gravely addresses the mortals, asking them to remember the old power of the gods and telling them not to desert the ancient ways of mankind. Thus they will re-make the Age of God.

© Sir Arthur Bliss


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