Opera en quatre actes. Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes.
Why exactly am I reviewing a work by a man who was such a massive a-hole that he made Wagner seem like Gandhi? Oh well, I need some diversity credit and right-winger is a category. Admittedly he was nice to Paul Dukas at least, so maybe he wasn’t all bad. This is basically a Celtic Parsifal with some bizarre historically inaccurate concepts like Muslims and Ancient Druids existing at the same time and space. Honestly, I don’t know why I took the time to review this when I could be listening to Saint-Saens’ Henry VIII instead. This may disappear soon.
SETTING: France, some time after the birth of Islam but before the ninth century. There are three main characters, Fervaal (tenor) the last son of the King of Cravann who must forswear all romantic love in order to protect his people. This includes the love of Guilhen (mezzo-soprano) a Saracen (Muslim) princess and apparent sorceress who when rejected by Fervaal in favour of his mission at the behest of the Druid Arfagard (baritone) has her men attack Cravann. The other character worth mentioning is a religious figure named Kaito (contralto) who gets the best music in the piece.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: Princess Guilhen’s castle/palace in the Midi, France circa 7th century.
0, 6, 14, 23: The prelude * is a tranquil piece before we come upon Fervaal who has been nursed back to health by the Saracen princess Guilhen who arrives to a series of quotations from Tristan und Isolde *. It is rather ornery brooding stuff, although Guilhen does get some interesting passages * but it is mostly just about how they have become enslaved/imprisoned by their love for each other. The act mostly consists of a long duet until Arfagard arrives ** and orders Fervaal to give up Guilhen and the love of all women to fulfill his mission as protector of Cravann. Guilhen is not thrilled about this and orders her people to attack Cravann.
ACT 2: The mountain of Kaito.
0, 5, 9, 11: Fervaal and Arfagard climb up the mountain to receive the oracles advice *. It is all rather boring until a rather amazing orchestral passage *** (an ascent) is followed by the encounter with Kaito which is just amazing *** (backed by feminine chorus) as she announces her prophecy *** that some sort of “love” will take over the world (a reference to Christianity no doubt) thus the age of the gods will end and only death will cause new life to flourish. The two men are left to interpret the prophecy: Arfagard doesn’t get it, but Fervaal is certain that because of his love for Guilhen, he must die.
ACT 3: The meeting place of the tribesmen of Crevann.
0, 6, 15: Excited brass leading to a good male chorus ** that greets Fervaal. This is followed by Fervaals address, some brassy Parsifal-like stuff and a chorus (altos leading). The rest borders on a lower-voltage variant of the choruses in Boris Godunov. After Arfagard gives his address and introduces their new chief, Fervaal tells everyone that although he is their leader, he will ultimately fail and they will all die **. A LOT of fanfare (most of it of a military nature) follows until a rather bouncy finale lead by Fervaal **. Arfagard predicts that they will all die.
ACT 4: A battlefield near Kaito’s mountain.
0, 5, 8, 13, 17, 24: Scary chorusing *, everyone (except our famous three) has died in a climactic battle between Guilhen’s and Fervaal’s respective forces. Arfagard finds Fervaal still alive expressing a lot of chromatic grief and they come to a mutual decision that Fervaal has to be ritually murdered so that Jesus can take over. Guilhen arrives and the three get into a massive argument about how Fervaal’s love for Guilhen is basically the worst thing that has ever happened. This ends in Fervaal killing Arfagard * which is greeted with something resembling Also Sprach Zarathustra. In one minute there are quotations from both Tristan and Parsifal *. Guilhen goes into some detail about how the weather is killing her (it is far too cold for her) *. The rest of the act consists of a fifteen minute long aria ** for Fervaal as he carries Guilhen’s lifeless body up the mountain and contemplates how everyone and everything he has ever loved is dead, so now he must die so Jesus can triumph. He goes crazy, thinks that the bloody battlefield has become Guilhen’s rose garden. Eventually the Pange lingua * (which in the original score is used ad nauseam akin to Wagner’s usage of the Dresden Amen in Parsifal, but here we get far less of it, although the usage of both pieces has been connected to Meyerbeer’s usage of “A Might Fortress” in Les Huguenots) can be heard in the background and our boy bombs out. He is last seen going off with Guilhen’s body into the clouds for whatever reason (death? apotheosis?).
As OperaScribe said, it is impossible to accurately judge an opera from a recording that probably only consists of about one-third of the original score. However, when has that stopped ME! The plot is Parsifal with the acts shuffled and an unhappy ending, or rather everyone dies and Christianity triumphs fantastically over the corpse of an extinct civilization: so sort of an everyday occurrence? The finale leaves us in the cold light of day realizing that the entire work is a Christofascist wet dream written by an anti-semite, (it actually makes me thankful that secularism is a thing, and I’m not even a secularist!), and although musically good, dramatically the storyline itself is illogical, slow, and aimless. There isn’t enough of a story for a two-hour long opera here much less a premiere that took five hours. I will only reference that D’Indy’s focus on his main character being a warrior and the East-West cultural clash (usually well within the realm of French Grand Opera) is similar to Julius Evola’s later books The Mystery of the Grail and Revolt Against the Modern World, as well as the preoccupation with magic, the occult, and a load of rubbish about how male heterosexuality is so normative that it is a justification for sexual violence against women (albeit here it seems to be the exact opposite). In all honesty, I don’t know what to give this thing!