Pénélope is an opera in three acts by the French composer Gabriel Fauré. The libretto, by René Fauchois, is based on Homer's Odyssey. It was first performed at the Salle Garnier, Monte Carlo on 4 March 1913.
The premiere at Monte Carlo was not a great success, partly because the director of the theatre, Raoul Gunsbourg, was more concerned with promoting his own opera, Vénise, which made its debut four days later. But Pénélope was rapturously received when it appeared at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on May 10, 1913. Unfortunately for Fauré, the theatre soon went bankrupt. Despite critics holding the music in high esteem, revivals of the opera have been rare.
The Opéra-Comique took Pénélope into its repertoire on 20 January 1919, with a cast including Germaine Lubin in the title role and Charles Rousselière as Ulysse and Félix Vieuille as Eumée, conducted by François Ruhlmann. Later revivals were conducted by Albert Wolff (1922), Inghelbrecht (1924, with Claire Croiza in the title role), and Wolff again in 1927 and 1931, totalling 63 performances. On 14 March 1943 the Paris Opera staged Pénélope, conducted by Ruhlmann, with Lubin in the title role.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast |
Conductor: Léon Jehin
|Pénélope (Penelope)||soprano||Lucienne Bréval|
|Ulysse (Ulysses)||tenor||Charles Rousselière|
|Eumée (Eumaeus)||baritone||Jean Bourbon|
|Euryclée (Euryclea)||mezzo-soprano||Alice Raveau|
|Une suivante (a follower)||soprano||Nelly Courcelle|
Act OnePenelope has been waiting for ten years for the return of her husband, Ulysses, King of Ithaca. In the mean time she has been besieged by suitors for her hand in marriage. She promises she will choose between them once she has finishing weaving a shroud for her father-in-law Laertes, but every night she unpicks the day's work. Ulysses arrives at the palace disguised as a beggar and is recognised by his old nurse Euryclea.
Act TwoThat night, as ever, Penelope keeps watch for Ulysses's ship on a hill-top overlooking the sea. She talks nostalgically to the shepherd Eumaeus. The beggar offers to help Penelope defeat the suitors. He claims to be a fugitive Cretan king who has seen Ulysses alive at his court. After Penelope leaves, Ulysses reveals his true identity to the overjoyed shepherds.
Act ThreeThe suitors have arranged Penelope's wedding in the palace hall. She tells them that they must decide which one will win her hand by holding a competition to see who can draw Ulysses's bow. Not one of them succeeds. The beggar steps forward and draws the bow with ease, before turning to shoot the suitors. The shepherds join in the killing with their knives. Finally, Ulysses and Penelope are happily reunited.
Pénélope - Jessye Norman
Euryclée - Jocelyne Taillon
Cléone - Norma Lerer
Alkandre - Colette Alliot-Lugaz
Eurymaque - Philippe Huttenlocher
Ctésippe - Paul Guigue
Ulysse - Alain Vanzo
Eumée - José van Dam
Mélantho - Michèle Command
Phylo - Christine Barbaux
Antinoüs - Jean Dupouy
Léodès - Gérard Friedmann
Pisandre - François Le Roux
Lydie - Danielle Borst
Orchestre Philharmonique de Montecarlo
Ensemble Choral Jean Laforge
Charles Dutoit, 1980