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Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy; original German version by Ernst Dohm; new German versions by Gunter Selling and Wolfgang Quetes; new English version by Richard Duployen (F,G,E)

Scoring

2S,3S(M),4T,T(Bar),Bar,BBar; 2 speaking roles; chorus;
2(II=picc).1.2.1-2.2.1.0-timp.perc-strings;
Viennese orchestration: 2(II=picc).2.2.2-4.2.3.0-timp.perc-strings

Abbreviations (PDF)

World Premiere
17/12/1864
Théâtre des Variétés, Paris
Company: .

World premiere of version
02/07/2004
Kaiserthermen, Trier
Wolfgang Quetes, director
Conductor: Fabian Dobler
Company: Ensemble Theater Trier

Roles

PARIS, son of king Priam Tenor
MENELAUS, king of Sparta Buffo Tenor
HELENA, queen of Sparta Mezzo Soprano (Vienna: Soprano)
AGAMEMNON, king of kings Baritone
ORESTES, son of Agamenmon Soprano oder light Mezzo Soprano
CALCHAS, grand augur of Jupiter Baritone (or Bass Baritone)
ACHILLES, king of Phthia Tenor
AIAX I, king of Salamis Buffo Tenor
AIAX II, king of Lokris Buffo Tenor (or high Baritone)
BACCHIS, follower to Helena Soprano
LEOENA, hetaera Soprano
PARTHOENIS, hetaera Soprano (or Mezzo Sorpano)
PHILOCOME, servant of Calchas, responsible for thunder speaking role
EUTHYCLES, balcksmith speaking role
Guards, slaves, people, princes, princesses, women mourning Adonis, Helena’s retinue
Time and Place

Sparta and Nauplia before the Trojan war

Synopsis

Prince Paris, having given the first prize of a beauty contest on Mount Ida to the goddess Venus ahead of Juno and Minerva, has been promised the most beautiful woman of Greece as a reward from Venus. This news has made its way to Troy where Helena, the wife of King Menelaus, is convinced that this woman must be no-one other than herself. Shortly afterwards, Paris appears in Troy, dressed as a shepherd, and asks the high priest Calchas for help in conquering the city. Paris wins at a ceremonial (though ananchronistic) guessing game, at which numerous classical heroes are gathered, and reveals his identity. Helena expresses her delight with daring coloratura. Calchas makes the thunder machine rumble and declares that Jupiter wishes the instant departure of the king to Crete. Menelaus has evil forebodings, but may not resist the will of the highest god. Paris is free to do what he wants. Now, however, as all obstructions have been removed, Helena appears cold and rejects Paris at night. Soon she repents what she has done and wishes for the fulfilment of her longings, at least in a dream. When that finally comes true, in a very real way, Menelaus returns and enters the marital bedchamber. This time Paris has to withdraw. Helena reproaches her husband for acting against the explicit will of the goddess Venus, and Menelaus begins to wonder whether she may be right. He sends for a priest of Venus from the island of Cythera who is supposed to investigate the case. But the priest, who takes Helena to his ship and abducts her "on behalf of the goddess", is none other than the cunning Paris. The Trojan war can begin, just as described in the schoolbooks…

Moods

Comic

Subjects

Mythology, Politics, Relationships, Religion, Society

Recommended Recording

Jennifer Larmore / Jun-Sang Han / Peter Galliard / Viktor Rud / Rebecca Jo Loeb / Christian Miedl / Anat Edri / Chor der Hamburgischen Staatsoper / Philharmoniker Hamburg / Gerrit Prießnitz
Renaud Doucet, dir. / decors & costumes: André Barbe
Unitel Classica / C Major 730908 (Blu-Ray) / 731004 (DVD)

Belle Hélène (OEK critical edition)


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