Opera en prologue et trois actes. Running Time: 3 hours 25 minutes.
Why exactly am I re-evaluating an opera that I, at face value, hate? This is basically a Celtic Parsifal with some bizarre historically inaccurate concepts like Muslims and Ancient Druids existing at the same time and space. However, if people are stupid enough to love Cagnoni′s Re Lear, I guess they can worship this fascist Frankish dreck.
I think that this time, I will review the work within the context of the difference between operas that are musically and dramatically good versus operas that are merely popular.
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 (after having saved his life) 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:
Prologue: A forest in the Midi, France circa 7th century. (19 minutes)
4, 8, 16: Freres, laissez ces gens/Il fait grand jours/Je connais les virtues des plantes The extremely brief prelude is a furious piece (references to Tristan abound) before we come upon five peasants who fight over who just killed Fervaal before the arrival of Guilhen the Muslim sorceress, who comes on to a series of quotations from Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal *as she looks at the body of the young warrior. She questions everyone, her servant Moussah, Arfagard the Druid, suddenly Fervaal awakens *. His arioso utilizes the lower half of the range (mostly the bass clef with rare opportunity above middle-C), first as he asks Arfagard where the horses are and then as he tries to spurn Guilhen (so many Wagner references here). He passes out, Arfagard at first thinking he is dead, but Guilhen sees that he breaths and lives. She orders that he be taken to her palace at once to the objections of Arfagard because she understands herbal medicines *. He eventually relents to her and she has her men take Fervaal, following close behind.
ACT 1: The palace gardens of Guilhen. (70 minutes)
0, 4, 10, 14: Partir ici?/Ecoutez-moi/Un nuit dans la solitude The act opens with a long and rather well known prelude ** which is a rather gentle and romantic piece. It is stopped by Arfagard trying to wake up Fervaal and get him to leave (which he doesn’t want to do *). Arfagard reminds him of his vow to the Celtic gods to protect his kingdom (which requires that he remain a virgin, Fervaal going into details with Arfagard about when he made his vows). Arfagard goes into a prophecy about how Jesus will eventually overthrow the Druidic order * (furious stuff). For Fervaal to conquer Jesus, he must remain pure and virginal, otherwise a woman will corrupt him and all will fall to the forces of Christianity. He must go to the chiefdom council. He leaves.
23, 25, 29, 37, 42, 47, 50, 52: Le chef est élu!/Fervaal, pourquoi rester dans ce jardin?/Jadis enfievre pars les chants des bards/Destin pareil, Destin contraire/Non Guilhen, la rose n’est pas la morte/Ho Fervaal!/Eh bien, eh bien!/Dans ma chaud pays Fervaal is left alone to ponder all of this *, but it doesn’t last long as Guilhen keeps interrupting everything * (more Wagner references, specifically Tristan and Walkure) as the two talk about how they have become enslaved/imprisoned by their love for each other. Fervaal has something resembling an aria *, followed by a similarly long response from Guilhen *. She doesn’t really understand the fact that if he loves her, he will die as a result *. After a lot of back and forth, it is nice it hear a little overlap for the two before Arfagard returns * 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 how willingly Fervaal is able to reject her advances ** (even though she momentarily wins him over before Arfagard returns yet again **)
55, 58, 62: Fervaal, mon bien amie/Ma bouche a goute la Miel de tes leves/Les fils des embrasse rivage/Allons de ses côtes! Guilhen contemplates * what to do. Her soldiers arrive and she orders her men to take Cravann **.
ACT 2: (62 minutes)
Scene 1: 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.
Scene 2: 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 3: A battlefield near Kaito’s mountain. (58 minutes)
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!