Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > Le Jongleur de Notre Dame - Massenet
Le Jongleur de Notre Dame
(English title: The Juggler of Our Lady)
An Opera by Jules Massenet
Opera in three acts by Jules Massenet. Libretto by Maurice Lena.
The opera was first sung at Monte Carlo, February 18, 1902, when the part of Jean was taken by Mr. Marechal, for this miracle play with music was composed originally for male singers. The only two women in the cast were represented as angels. The part of Boniface the cook was created by Mr. Renaud.
The story was first published by Gaston Paris as "Le Tombeor de Nostre Dame" in 1874-75 in the review, Romania, and later in his "Etude sur la Poésie Française au Moyen Age." The story is better known, however, by Anatole Frances version, included in his "Etui de Nacre" (1912).
A poor juggler after performing in the streets to earn his bread, begins to think of the future life and enters a monastery. There he sees the monks paying homage to the Virgin in eloquent prayers. Unable in his ignorance to imitate their pious learning, Jean decides to offer homage through the only means in his power. He shuts himself in the chapel, turns somersaults, and performs his feats in Our Ladys honour. When the monks searching for Jean rush in and cry "Sacrilege" at his singing, dancing, and tumbling, the statue of the Virgin comes to life, smiles, and blesses the poor juggler, who dies in ecstasy at her feet, while the monks chant the beatitude concerning the humble.
Massenet was later persuaded to turn the part of Jean into a soprano. It is known to New York through Miss Mary Garden. It is said that the libretto of this opera was handed to Massenet by the postman, one day, as he was leaving for the country. In the railway carriage, seeking distraction, he opened the registered package. He was delighted with the libretto and wrote at once to the author, a teacher in the university.