L’Aiglon: son of Napoleon
|Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
|Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
|Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
L’Aiglon (The Eaglet) is a play in five acts, set to Alexandrine verse by Edmond Rostand and premiered at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater in Paris in 1900. It paints a picture of Napoleon’s son, who was at birth proclaimed King of Rome. While he sought to free himself from the shadow of his father, he ended up following in his footsteps. In 1937, following several film adaptations, this emblematic text took on new life through composers Jacques Ibert and Arthur Honegger in a five-act collaboration. A unique opportunity to rediscover this seldom performed or recorded work.
Concerts with surtitles in French and in English.
Preconcert discussion at 6:45 p.m.
Please note that the preconcert talk will start
at 6 :45 p.m. and not at 7 p.m. as indicated on the concert tickets.
In the hall of Maison symphonique, preconcert discussions hosted by Georges Nicholson and reuniting Pierre-Jean Chalençon, president of the Cercle France Napoléon and manager of Souvenir napoléonien; Serge Joyal, a specialist in the Napoleonic period, who will discuss the strong link between Napoleon and America and how this part of history affects us to this day; and Jean-Pierre Brossmann, the former general manager of the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
Tuesday, March 17, Thursday, March 19 and Saturday, March 21 at 6:45 p.m.
Creation of art work live at Foyer Allegro
Artist, Melissa Del Pinto will create, a work of art inspired by L’Aiglon, live before the concert and during the intermission.
Opera in five acts by Jacques Ibert and Arthur Honegger
Libretto by Henri Cain, after the six-act play L’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand (1900)
The future! The future! Mystery!
All things terrestrial –
Glory, military fortune,
Glittery crown of kings,
Victory with fiery wings
Never settle on us
More than birds on our roofs!
Victor Hugo, “Napoléon II,” from
Les chants du crépuscule
L’Aiglon (The Eaglet), an opera by two composers, was first performed on March 11, 1937 by the Monte Carlo Opera. As partners in this quite unusual venture in the history of opera, Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) and Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) were jointly responsible for writing the music, deliberately working in a manner shrouded in mystery. When asked about their work, they were content to reply “One of us wrote the sharps, the other wrote the flats.” However, a study of the manuscript reveals that Ibert wrote Acts I and V, Honegger wrote II and IV, and both composers had a hand in III.
Despite the juxtaposition of their work, the score exhibits an astonishing degree of stylistic unity, and reveals the desire of both composers to write music as accessible as possible. As they clearly stated in Le Figaro on August 21, 1937, their intent was to write “a work popular and direct in character” that would “excite and move everyone in the audience while remaining a work of art.”
It must be said that the subject proposed by the director of the Monte Carlo Opera, Raoul Gunsbourg, was by its nature designed to move the masses, especially at a time marked by the rise of nationalism. The Eaglet was Napoleon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, only son of Napoleon I and his second wife, the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. Sacred Imperial Prince and King of Rome upon his birth in 1811, and named Napoleon II when his father was abducted in 1815 (he was just four at the time), he was soon removed from power upon the ascent of Louis XVIII. The Aiglon spent most of his short life at the court of Austria under the title Duke of Reichstadt, which was given him in 1818 by his maternal grandfather, the Emperor Francis I of Austria.
Edmond Rostand’s play, upon which the libretto is based, recounts the search for identity of this fragile adolescent, “Germanized” in spite of himself, still deeply devoted to France and to the memory of his father for whom he dreams – in vain – of again taking up the torch. Behind the chronicle of this tragic destiny lurks another dream, that of a sovereign France that ruled Europe, as it had during the time of the Napoleonic conquests. Hence, it is not surprising that the opera, which was a success at its premiere in 1937, disappeared from the stage just three years later. Under the Occupation, a work so imbued with French nationalism was unimaginable, all the more so for Honegger’s music that included French revolutionary songs, which obviously had no place in the Nazis’ “new Europe.”
Act I: Opening Wings
The year is 1831, ten years after the death of Napoleon I. It is the evening of the ball at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, where the Duke of Reichstadt and his mother, Marie-Louise, are living. Marie-Louise introduces to the court her new reader, the young French Thérèse de Lorget, whom the Duke likes right away. Austrian diplomat Metternich, a fervent anti-Bonapartist responsible for the Duke’s education in Vienna, presents to him a newcomer, the Marshall Marmont, one of Napoleon’s former generals whom the Duke accuses of having betrayed the Emperor by surrendering his troops to the enemy. Though regretful of his defection, he promises Napoleon’s son his support. Séraphin Flambeau, a valet in disguise but really a veteran of Napoleon’s Old Guard, adds his voice to Marmont’s in encouraging the Duke to return to France and assume power there.
Act II: Beating Wings
To show Flambeau that he accepts the support of the conspirators wishing to help him return to France, the Duke places his father’s hat on a table. Upon seeing Napoleon’s two-cornered hat, Metternich explodes in rage against his old enemy. Flambeau, dressed in his grenadier uniform, gets Metternich to believe for a moment that the Eagle himself has entered the room. But it is only the Eaglet who enters, just in time to allow Flambeau to escape while singing Le chant du départ, a French revolutionary song. Metternich attempts to undermine the Duke’s confidence by reminding him of the bad blood he has inherited from his Habsburg ancestors.
Act III: Bruised Wings
The Duke, badly shaken by what Metternich has told him, attends a masked ball at Schönbrunn but without much enthusiasm. There he meets Thérèse, to whom he confides his distress. His friend, Count Prokesch, restores his faith in his ability to lead France. The conspirators go to work. The Countess Camerata, the Duke’s cousin, changes clothes with him and leaves the ball with a flourish in order to allow him to escape unnoticed. By publicly insulting Napoleon, the diplomat Frédéric de Gentz, comes within a hair’s breadth of exposing the plot, but a French attaché sides with the Duke over this insult to the honor of France.
In this act’s first version, which was composed entirely by Honegger, the duet between the Duke and Thérèse was too long and, in the opinion of both composers, too “sugary.” Following the initial performances, they therefore decided to shorten this scene and to replace the music that was cut with a long series of Viennese waltzes by Ibert.
Act IV: Broken Wings
The conspirators gather on the Plain of Wagram, site of an important victory of Napoleon over the Austrian forces. Just as the Duke is preparing to leave for Paris, the Countess Camerata runs in to warn him that the conspiracy has been discovered, and that he is being followed. Rather than surrender to Austrian authorities, Flambeau falls on his sword. The Duke comforts him in his dying agony by pretending that he is perishing at the real Battle of Wagram, surrounded by Napoleon’s weakened but victorious army. The Duke ends up believing in his own well-meant deception, leading an imaginary battalion to attack his own regiment of the Austrian army, which arrives at that precise moment. Honegger borrowed the music for this powerfully dramatic scene from the film score he had written for Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927), where he superimposes the songs Le chant du départ and La Marseillaise.
Act V: Closed Wings
A few months later, in 1832. The Duke lays dying, having received the last rites in the presence of the entire court. Thérèse soothes his pain by humming folk songs from his childhood: Il pleut, il pleut, bergère, Nous n’irons plus au bois, and Sur le pont d’Avignon. Dismayed over having accomplished nothing during his lifetime, the Duke expires while the French attaché relates to him the story of his birth, when he still held the glorious titles of Imperial Prince and King of Rome.
© Marie-Hélène Benoit-Otis
Translated by Robert Markow
Prices include a non-refundable service fee of $9.00 per ticket. Some handling fee may be charged.