King Arthur

Synopsis

(Musical numbers given in bold)

 

Act 1

Scene 1

1. Overture
2. Air
3. Overture

The Britons prepare for the battle which will decide who will rule their land: the Christian Arthur or the heathen Saxon Oswald. It augurs well for them: it is Saint George's Day and the Britons have already defeated the Saxons in ten battles. Conon, Duke of Cornwall, explains the origins of the war. Oswald had sought his daughter, the blind Emmeline's, hand in marriage but she rejected him because she is in love with Arthur. Arthur enters reading a letter of support from his magician Merlin. He meets Emmeline and tries to explain to her what seeing means. A trumpet calls Arthur to battle.

Scene 2: The scene represents a place of Heathen worship; The three Saxon Gods, Woden, Thor, and Freya placed on Pedestals. An Altar.

Oswald and his magician Osmond sacrifice horses and pray to the Saxon gods for victory in the coming battle. Osmond's servant, the spirit Grimbald, arrives and says he has persuaded six Saxons to offer themselves as a human sacrifice. He also admits he has lost control of the other spirit, Philidel, "a puleing Sprite" who "Sighs when he should plunge a Soul in Sulphur,/As with Compassion touched of foolish man." Philidel was supposed to have drawn up the vapours from the marsh and blown them in the face of the Christian soldiers but when he saw the crosses on their banners, he refused to carry out this task. Osmond says he will punish Philidel later.

The sacrifice scene:

4. "Woden, first to thee" (Tenor, bass and chorus)
5. "The white horse neigh'd aloud" (Tenor and alto)
6. "The lot is cast, and Tanfan pleas'd" (Soprano)
7. "Brave souls, to be renown'd in story" (Chorus)
8. "I call you all to Woden's hall" (Alto and chorus)

Scene 3: "A battle supposed to be given behind the Scenes, with Drums, Trumpets, and military Shouts and Excursions."

The Britons sing a song of triumph as the Saxons flee the battlefield:

9. "Come if you dare" (Symphony followed by tenor and chorus)

 

Act 2

Scene 1

The tender-hearted Philidel pities those soldiers who have lost their lives in the battle. Merlin arrives in his chariot and orders Philidel to tell him who he is. Philidel explains he is a spirit of the air and one of the fallen angels, but he has repented. He deserts Osmond and joins Merlin. Philidel tells Merlin that Grimbald is planning to deceive the victorious Britons by leading them to drown in rivers or fall off cliffs. Merlin leaves Philidel his band of spirits to save the Britons from this trap. Grimbald arrives disguised as a shepherd guiding Arthur and his men. Philidel and his spirits and Grimald and his spirits compete to win Arthur's trust:

10. "Hither this way" (Chorus)
11. "Let not a moonborn elf deceive thee" (Grimbald)
12. "Hither this way" (Chorus)
13. "Come follow me" (Philidel and spirits)

Grimbald admits defeat, vows revenge on Philidel and vanishes.

Scene 2: A pavilion

Emmeline and her maid Matilda await news of the battle. To pass the time, a "Crew of Kentish Lads and Lasses" entertain them with songs and dances:

14. "How blest are the shepherds, how happy their lasses" (Shepherd and chorus)
15. "Shepherd, shepherd, leave decoying" (Two shepherdesses)
16a. Hornpipe
16b. "Come, shepherds, lead up a lively measure" (Chorus of shepherds)

Oswald and his comrade Guillamar stray from the battlefield, chance upon the pavilion and kidnap Emmeline and Matilda.

Scene 3

A group of Britons continue the battle.

Scene 4

Arthur holds a parley with Oswald and begs him to return Emmeline, offering him land from the River Medway to the Severn, but Oswald refuses to relinquish her.

17. Second Act Tune: Air

 

Act 3

Scene 1

Arthur and his men attack Oswald's castle but Osmond's magic defeats them. Osmond has conjured a "Magick Wood" which bars access to the castle. Merlin promises to help Arthur reach Emmeline and restore her sight with potion in a vial.

Scene 2: A deep wood

Grimbald catches Philidel as he scouts the enchanted wood for Merlin. Philidel pretends to submit but secretly casts a spell on Grimbald which renders him powerless to move. Merlin asks Philidel to guide Arthur through the wood and gives him the vial, which the spirit uses to rid Emmeline of her blindness. Emmeline is amazed at the new world before her eyes. Merlin's spells also allow Arthur and Emmeline to meet for a brief moment, but Emmeline will not be free until the enchanted wood is destroyed. Osmond enters, intent on seducing Emmeline for himself, having drugged his master Oswald.

Osmond tries to win Emmeline over by showing her a masque acted by spirits. He conjures up a vision of "Yzeland" and "farthest Thule".

The Frost Scene
18. Prelude
19. "What ho! thou genius of this isle" (Cupid wakes the "Cold Genius", who is the spirit of Winter).
20. "What Power art thou, who from below..." (The Cold Genius reluctantly wakes from his slumbers)
21. "Thou doting fool" (Cupid)
22. "Great Love, I know thee now" (The Cold Genius acknowledge's love's power)
23. "No part of my dominion shall be waste" (Cupid)
24. Prelude
25. "See, see, we assemble" (Chorus and dance of the Cold People)
26. "'Tis I that have warm'd ye" (Cupid, followed by ritornello and chorus of Cold People: "'Tis Love that has warm'd us")
27. "Sound a parley" (Cupid and Cold Genius, followed by ritornello and chorus)
28. Third Act Tune: Hornpipe

The masque fails to persuade Emmeline and Osmond resorts to force but the captive Grimbald's shouts interrupt him. Osmond goes to free him, promising Emmeline he will be back.

 

Act 4

Scene 1

The freed Grimbald warns Osmond that Arthur is approaching the enchanted wood, where Merlin has undone his spells. Osmond decides to replace the threatening spells with seductive ones.

Scene 2: Scene of the Wood continues

Merlin leaves Arthur at the entrance to the wood with the spirit Philidel as his guide. Philidel has a wand which will banish all magical deception. Arthur hears seductive music from two Sirens bathing in a stream.

29. "Two Daughters of this Aged Stream are we"

Though tempted, Arthur realises it is an illusion and presses on. Next, "Nymphs and Sylvans" emerge from the trees singing and dancing.

30. Passacaglia: "How happy the lover"

Again, Arthur rejects them and begins the task of destroying the wood. When he chops a tree with his sword, blood pours out of it and the voice of Emmeline cries out in pain. It convinces Arthur that it is Emmeline, who has been turned into a tree by Osmond, and Arthur is just about to embrace the tree when Philidel reveals it is really a trick by Grimbald. Philidel captures Grimbald and Arthur cuts down the tree, dispelling the enchantment from the wood and freeing the way to Oswald's castle. Philidel drags off Grimbald in chains.

31. Fourth Act Tune: Air

 

Act 5

Scene 1

Now his magic has been destroyed, Osmond is terrified of the approaching Arthur. He decides he must persuade Oswald to fight for him.

Scene 2

32. Trumpet tune

Arthur and the Britons are preparing to storm the castle when Oswald comes out and challenges his rival to single combat for the hand of Emmeline and the crown. They fight and Arthur disarms Oswald. Arthur spares his life but tells Oswald he and his Saxons must return to Germany because the Britons "brook no Foreign Power/ To Lord it in a Land, Sacred to Freedom." Osmond is cast into a dungeon with Grimbald. Arthur is reunited with Emmeline and the work ends with a celebratory masque.

The final masque: Merlin conjures a vision of the ocean around Britain. The Four Winds create a storm which is calmed by Aeolus:

33. "Ye Blust'ring Brethren of the Skies" (Aeolus)

allowing Britannia to rise from the waves on an island with fishermen at her feet.

34. Symphony (The fishermen dance)
35. "Round thy Coasts, Fair Nymph of Britain" (Duet for Pan and a Nereid)
36. "For Folded Flocks, on Fruitful Plains" (Trio of male voices)
37. "Your hay it is Mow'd, and your Corn is Reap'd" (Comus and peasants)
38. "Fairest Isle" (Venus)
39. "You say 'tis love" (Duet for "He" and "She"; according to the printed libretto, the words were written by "Mr. Howe")
40. "Trumpet Tune (Warlike Consort) (Merlin reveals the Order of the Garter)
41. "Saint George, the Patron of our Isle" (Honour and chorus)
42. Chaconne (The masque ends with a "grand dance")

Program and cast

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January 1970

Palace of Versailles

Royal Opera

The Royal Opera of Versailles, located in the grounds of the Castle, one of the major opera houses.

The opening of the opera house at Versailles brought to a close a process of planning, projects and designs that had lasted for nearly a century. While the Royal Opera was finally built towards the end of the reign of Louis XV, it had been envisaged since as early as 1682, the year when his predecessor Louis XIV took up residence at Versailles. The King had commissioned Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Vigarani to draw up plans for a ballet theatre. Mansart shrewdly decided on a position at the far end of the new wing that was to be built over the coming years: the nearby reservoirs for the gardens’ fountains could be used to fight any fire that might break out, while the sloping ground on that part of the site would allow provision of the necessary technical spaces below the stage without major excavation work. So cleverly-chosen, indeed, was the planned location that none of Mansart’s successors ever questioned it.

Major building work was already under way in 1685, but was soon interrupted because of the wars and financial difficulties which beset the later part of the king’s reign. Louis XV in his turn was long put off by the huge expense involved in the project. As a result, for almost a century the French court was forced to put up with a makeshift theatre installed below the Passage des Princes. When a grand opera was required, with a large cast and complicated stage machinery, a temporary theatre would be built in the stables of the Grande Ecurie, with the entire structure being demolished once the performances were over. This temporary solution was adopted, for instance, during the celebrations of the Dauphin’s wedding in February 1745, but its inconvenience was so starkly obvious that Louis XV finally resolved to build a permanent theatre, entrusting its design to his first architect, Ange­Jacques Gabriel.

The process of actually building the new theatre, however, was to take over twenty years. During this lengthy period of construction Gabriel, who had studied the leading theatres of Italy, in particular Vicenza, Bologna, Parma, Modena and Turin, presented a series of different designs to his royal patron, none of which was accepted. Only in 1768, faced with the forthcoming successive marriages of his grandchildren, did the king finally give the order for work to commence. Building progressed steadily and the new opera house was completed in twenty-three months, ready for its inauguration on the 16th of May 1770, the day of the Dauphin’s marriage to the Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, with a performance of Persée by Quinault and Lully.
 

Royal Chapel
 

This extraordinary two-level palatine chapel was built by Jules Hardouin Mansart between 1699 and 1708 and completed by Robert de Cotte in 1710.
The paintings on the vaulted ceiling by Antoine Coypel, Charles de la Fosse and Jean Jouvenet, as well as the lavish decoration fashioned by a team of sculptors working for Louis XIV, depict a number of Old and New Testament scenes. Facing the royal gallery is the remarkable organ, created by Robert Clicquot, the King's organ builder, which was first played on Easter Sunday 1711 by François Couperin.
Even though Hardouin-Mansart did not witness the completion of the chapel, he was the one who had dictated the major aspects of the architecture and decor: a ground floor with a nave, aisles and ambulatory, and an upper floor with galleries, a harmonious combination of white and gold contrasting with the polychromatic marble floor and paintings on the vaulted ceiling, all combining to create an original space with references to both gothic architecture and baroque aesthetics.
Every day, generally at 10 a.m., the court would attend the King's mass. The King would sit in the royal gallery, surrounded by his family, while the ladies of the court would occupy the side galleries. The "officers" and the public would sit in the nave. The King would only descend to the ground floor for important religious festivals when he would take communion, for Order of the Holy Spirit ceremonies and for the baptisms and weddings of the Children of France, which were celebrated there between 1710 and 1789. Above the altar, around the Cliquot organ played by the greatest virtuosos of their age, including François Couperin, the Chapel Choir, renowned throughout Europe, would sing motets throughout the entire service, every day.

The Orangerie gardens
 

From May to October, orange trees and other shrubs are taken out of the Parterre Bas of the Orangerie gardens. At the center of this parterre, there is a large circular pool surrounded by six sections of lawn.

 

Orangerie
 

A great stone cathedral within a formal garden, The Orangerie is both a royal and magical place.

Built between 1684 and 1686 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart to house and protect precious trees and shrubs during the Winter, this extraordinarily large building is located beneath the parterre du Midi (South flowerbed), for which it acts as a support. Two monumental staircases, known as "les Cent Marches" (the hundred steps), frame the Orangerie's three galleries, which overlook the parterre where, during the Summer, more than 1,200 exotic trees are arranged.

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