Le siége de Corinthe, tragédie lyrique


Le siège de Corinthe, a tragédie lyrique in thre acts to a libretto by Luigi Balocchi and Alexandre Soumet, was first performed at Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, on 9th October 1826.

The singers in the first performances were Henri-Etienne Dérivis (Mahomet II), Louis Nourrit (Cléomène), Laura Cinti-Damoreau (Pamyra), Adolphe Nourrit (Néocles), Alex Prévost (Hiéros), Bonnel (Adraste), Ferdinand Prévost (Omar), M.lle Frémont (Ismène).

The opera is a re-making of Maometto II.

Act One

A Hall in the Senate building

The Mohammedans, led by their fearsome Sultan Mahomet II, have conquered Constantinople in 1453 and toppled the Eastern Empire after a thousand years of glory, and six years later they are besieging the city of Corinth. Terrified and exhausted, the defenders of the Greek city gather around the Governor, Cléomène: should they resist to the last man, or surrender to the enemy? The warrior Néoclès and the venerable Hiéros exhort the troops to face the ultimate sacrifice courageously, for the sake of the honour of Greece. When the combatants have gone out, Néoclès reminds Cléomène that he has promised to give him his daughter Pamyra in marriage. Mindful of the impending calamity, the Governor decides to hurry on the wedding, so that his daughter may be sure of the protection of the young soldier; however, Pamyra herself does not seem particularly enthusiastic about this decision, and when pressed reveals that she has given her heart and her promises to another man, named Almanzor, whom she met in Athens some time before. Although so different in their feelings, the three are united in their sorrow and unease. A chorus announces that the enemy are getting ready to attack and, whilst Cléomène and Néoclès join the defenders on the city walls, Pamyra promises her father that if things go badly for the Greeks, she will kill herself with the dagger that he has given her.

The scene changes to a square in Corinth, invaded by Turks who threaten dire reprisals on anyone who offers resistance. Acclaimed by his men, Mahomet comes on and orders his men not to destroy any of the works of art decorating Corinth, showing his love of beautiful things. Omar tells his master that the whole city has fallen except the fortress, which still offers resistance. One of the Greek leaders has been captured and Mahomet orders that his life shall be spared and he shall be led forward: he wants to question him before marching on to conquer Athens, where, years before, he lived for a while in incognito and where he had met the young girl whom he still loves. The prisoner is Cléomène: Mahomet asks him to order his men to lay down their arms, and, when he refuses, threatens to kill all the remaining defenders of the city. But Pamyra throws herself at the victor’s feet, and now the lovers of long ago recognize one another. Mahomet happily announces that he is ready to marry Pamyra: in exchange he will show mercy in his dealings with the Greeks. But Cléomène reminds his daughter that she has promised to marry Néoclès, and, when he sees that she is reluctant to obey him, he curses her. Furiously Mahomet threatens revenge again if anyone obstructs his desires.

Act Two

Mahomet’s tent

Things are being prepared for the wedding ceremony that will join Mahomet and Pamyra, but the girl, torn between love and duty, implores her dead mother to help her. In a sorrowful conversation, Pamyra explains her state of mind to Mahomet; the Sultan repeats that the safety of her people depends on her marrying him. The nuptial rite is about to begin, to the tune of songs, dances and prayers, when a disturbance is heard; this is caused by the fierceness of Néoclès, who comes on threatening a revolt of the Greeks. To save him from Mahomet’s wrath Pamyra introduces him as her brother: the Sultan has him freed from his chains, ordering him to be witness to the wedding, which he intends to hurry on. Néoclès, outraged, refuses, but meanwhile Omar announces that Corinth has revolted in a last desperate attempt to strike back, with the women fighting beside their warrior menfolk. From the fortress, Cléomène calls to his daughter to join him; she cannot remain deaf to this appeal and she goes away with Néoclès and the Greeks: if long ago she loved Mahomet as Almanzor, now she flees from him as the enemy of her country. The rage of their leader inflames the Turks to get ready to retaliate.

Act Three

The burial ground of Corinth

Adraste tells Néoclès that all is lost: the few remaining Greeks have taken refuge among the tombs. The voice of Pamyra is heard: with the other women she is praying to God, and Néoclès joins his prayer to theirs, happy at least in being able to pass the last moments of his life beside the woman he loves. Cléomène now comes in, still believing that his daughter is an accursed cast-away, but Pamyra throws herself at his feet, and Néoclès bears witness that she has remained true to her country. As for herself, Pamyra now declares that she no longer loves Mahomet and that she will be the bride of Néoclès in life and in death: moved, Cléomène blesses the couple and the three embrace one another for the last time. Hiéros comes on with a small group of soldiers who have survived the last battle: the enemy has surrounded the graveyard and their last moment is at hand. As though seized by the inspiration of prophetic fire, Hiéros declares that after centuries of servitude under the yoke of the Turks, their country will win her freedom once more: ready to undergo the last sacrifice, the Greeks go to engage the enemy, invoking the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae. Left alone, Pamyra and the women gather together in prayer, invoking death as liberation. Having got the last defenders out of the way, Mahomet rushes on with his troops, determined to make Pamyra his, but the girl kills herself whilst walls collapse all round and Corinth is consumed by a great fire.