Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > Dinorah - Meyerbeer
ou Le Pardon de Ploërmel
(English title: Dinorah, or the Pardon of Ploërmel)
An Opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer
The Meyerbeer opera, "Dinorah," has an occasional revival for the benefit of some prima donna extraordinarily gifted in lightness and flexibility of vocal phrasing.
This opera has a famous air -- the "Shadow Song," in which Dinorah dances and sings to her own shadow in the moonlight -- a number which, at long intervals of time, galvanizes the rest of the score into some semblance of life.
Barbier and Carré wrote the words of "Dinorah, "founding their libretto on a Breton tale. Under the title, "Le Pardon de Ploërmel" (the scene of the opera being laid near the Breton village of Ploërmel) the work was produced at the Opéra Comique, Paris, April 4, 1859. It has three principal characters -- a peasant girl, Dinorah, soprano, Hoël, a goat-herd, baritone; Corentino, a bagpiper, tenor. The famous baritone, Faure, was the Hoël of the Paris production. Cordier (Dinorah), Amodio (Hoël), Brignoli (Corentino) were heard in the first American production, Academy of Music, New York, November 24, 1864. As Dinorah there also have been heard here Ilma di Murska (Booths Theatre, 1867), Marimon (with Campanini as Corentino), December 12, 1879; Adelina Patti (1882); Tetrazzini (Manhattan Opera House, 1907); and Galli Curci (Lexington Theatre, January 28, 1918), with the Chicago Opera Company.
Dinorah is betrothed to Hoël. Her cottage has been destroyed in a storm. Hoël, in order to rebuild it, goes into a region haunted by evil spirits, in search of hidden treasure. Dinorah, believing herself deserted, loses her reason and, with her goat, whose tinkling bell is heard, wanders through the mountains in search of Hoël.
The opera is in three acts. It is preceded by an overture during which there is sung by the villagers behind the curtain the hymn to Our Lady of the Pardon. The scene of the first act is a rough mountain passage near Corentinos hut. Dinorah finds her goat asleep and sings to it a graceful lullaby, "Dors, petite, dors tranquille" (Little one, sleep; calmly rest). Corentino, in his cottage, sings of the fear that comes over him in this lonely region. To dispel it, he plays on his cornemuse. Dinorah enters the hut, and makes him dance with her, while she sings.
When some one is heard approaching, she jumps out of the window. It is Hoël. Both he and Corentino think she is a sprite. Hoël sings of the gold he expects to find, and offers Corentino a share in the treasure if he will aid him lift it. According to the legend, however, the first one to touch the treasure must die, and Hoëls seeming generosity is a ruse to make Corentino the victim of the discovery. The tinkle of the goats bell is heard. Hoël advises that they follow the sound as it may lead to the treasure. The act closes with a trio, "Ce tintement que lon entend" (The tinkling tones that greet the ear). Dinorah stands among the high rocks, while Hoël and Coretino, the latter reluctantly, make ready to follow the tinkle of the bell.
A wood of birches by moonlight is the opening scene of the second act. It is here Dinorah sings of "Le vieux sorcier de la montagne" (The ancient wizard of the mountain), following it with the "Shadow Song," "Ombre legère qui suis mes pas" (Fleet shadow that pursues my steps) -- "Ombra leggiera" in the more familiar Italian version.
This is a passage so graceful and, when sung and acted by an Adelina Parti, was so appealing, that I am frank to confess it suggested to me the chapter entitled "Shadows of the Stage," in my novel of opera behind the scenes, All-of-a Sudden Carmen.
The scene changes to a wild landscape. A ravine bridged by an uprooted tree. A pond, with a sluiceway which, when opened, gives on the ravine. The moon has set. A storm is rising.
Hoël and Corentino enter, later Dinorah. Through the night, that is growing wilder, she sings the legend of the treasure, "Sombre destinée, âme condamnee" (Oershadowing fate, soul lost for aye).
Her words recall the tragic story of the treasure to Corentino, who now sees through Hoëls ruse, and seeks to persuade the girl to go after the treasure. She sings gaily, in strange contrast to the gathering storm. Lightning flashes show her her goat crossing the ravine by the fallen tree. She runs after her pet. As she is crossing the tree, a thunderbolt crashes. The sluice bursts, the tree is carried away by the flood, which seizes Dinorah in its swirl. Hoël plunges into the wild waters to save her.
Not enough of the actual story remains to make a third act. But as there has to be one, the opening of the act is filled in with a song for a Hunter (bass), another for a Reaper (tenor) and a duet for Goat-herds (soprano and contralto). Hoël enters bearing Dinorah, who is in a swoon. Hoël here has his principal air, "Ah! mon remords te venge" (Ah, my remorse avenges you). Dinorah comes to. Her reason is restored when she finds herself in her lovers arms. The villagers chant the "Hymn of the Pardon." A procession forms for the wedding, which is to make happy Dinorah and Hoël, every one, in fact, including the goat.
Except for the scene of the "Shadow Dance," the libretto is incredibly inane -- far more so than the demented heroine. But Meyebeer evidently wanted to write a pastoral opera. He did so; with the result that now, instead of pastoral, it sounds pasteurized.