Text by Hugo von Hofmansthal (G)
Boosey & Hawkes
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Deutsches Theater, Berlin
Conductor: Einar Nilson
Company: Deutsches Theater
Time and Place
Paris in the early 18th century
At his Paris home, the nouveau riche Monsieur Jourdain aspires to the social manners and skills of the true gentleman. He engages in music, dancing and fencing lessons. The dissolute nobleman Dorante visits. He has offered to help 'lift' Jourdain up to high society and can arrange an introduction to the widowed Marquise Dorimène. Jourdain plans that his daughter Lucile will marry Dorante, but she sees through the nobleman's plans and warns her father that he is only interested in Jourdain's money. Lucile meets her true lover Cleonte and, together with his valet Corvielle, they devise a plan to pose as an Ottoman prince and his interpreter. Jourdain, is completely taken in and, with his admiration of the aristocracy, imagines he will soon be father-in-law to a real prince. He arranges a dinner to impress his beloved Marquise Dorimène. Rhine salmon, saddle of mutton and a dish of larks and thrushes (accompanied by musical allusions), are followed by an omelette surprise with a kitchen-boy emerging from the dish with an erotic dance. Jourdain has had too much to drink and Dorimène leaves with Dorante before affairs get out of hand. Cleonte and Corvielle in Ottoman guise prepare a ceremony to install Jourdain as a Mamamuschi (Paladin). In this elevated position they say he can officiate at the wedding. The grand Turkish ceremony proceeds and, unwittingly, Jourdain marries Lucile to Cleonte.
The tangled progress of Strauss and Hofmannsthal's engagement with Molière's Le Bourgeois gentilhomme resulted in four independent yet interrelated works, all assigned op.60 in his worklist:
Ariadne auf Naxos (1912 version).
Following the success of Der Rosenkavalier in 1911 Strauss and Hofmannsthal planned a further work set in the baroque period, again centred on the topical theme of the social rise of the emerging nouveau riche. Hofmannsthal homed in on Molière's play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme and Strauss was attracted to the idea of reworking the original musical material by Lully. Hofmannsthal reduced Molière's play from five acts to two, providing Strauss with opportunties for incidental music, particularly the witty dinner scene with its use of musical quotation linked to each course of food. The play was followed by a new and, for its time, radical through-composed entertainment, colliding opera seria with commedia dell'arte as an alternative to the Turkish theatricals of the original play. The original Ariadne auf Naxos had un unfortunately protracted first performance and a mixed reception thereafter, neither satisfying theatre nor opera audiences. It became increasingly clear that, outside festival conditions, the expense of hiring a theatre company and an opera company was an impractical barrier to frequent future performances.
Ariadne auf Naxos (1916 version).
In 1916 Strauss and Hofmannsthal agreed to go forward with a new version. This replaced the Molière play with a new through-composed prologue, elaborating the short text in which the decision to play the opera and comedy simultaneously is revealed. The roles from the original opera were expanded into the new prologue, as was that of the composer who appeared briefly as a spoken role in the original play. Monsieur Jourdain does not appear, and a Major Domo functions as his mouthpiece. The action is transferred from Paris to Vienna, and the Prologue takes place backstage. Strauss made numerous changes in the revised opera, including limiting the difficulty, range and length of Zerbinetta's aria Grossmächtige Prinzessin, removing her preparation of Ariadne before the arrival of Bacchus, and keeping the comedians off the stage at the close other than an aside from Zerbinetta, so as to focus on the love music of Ariadne and Bacchus. The practicality and conventional operatic nature of the 1916 version meant that, perhaps unfairly, it soon superceded the 1912 version. This later version remains the one that is regularly performed today.
Der Bürger als Edelmann (1917)
Hofmannsthal felt the 1916 version was too far away from his original Moliere-inspired intententions and he rightly regarded Strauss's incidental music as well worth rescuing from oblivion. In 1917 he persuaded Strauss to collaborate on turning their attention to reworking the 1912 play into a musical comedy. The drama was refashioned into three acts, removing all references to the opera and commedia dell'arte characters and reintroducing a Turkish ceremony in the final act. The incidental music from the 1912 play was retained and Strauss wrote some additional material, particularly for Act III with its opportunities for sung items and chorus. This version was not a success at its 1918 premiere, but Strauss retained an affection for the music throughout his life, choosing it as the culiminatory work at his 85th birthday celebrations in 1949.
Le Bourgeois genthilhomme Suite (1920)
Hofmannsthal proposed that the 1917 version be turned into a new opera, but Strauss refused. Instead he extracted musical items to create the much-loved 25-minute orchestral suite which was premiered with great success in Vienna in January 1920. It remains a pioneering example of neoclassicism and rapidly became a popular score for ballet usage including a celebrated production by the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo in 1944.