Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (G,Cz,E,F,I)
Main roles: colS,dramS
Subsidiary roles: S,M,hT,2T,Bar,B
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At his Paris home, the nouveau riche Monsieur Jourdain aspires to the social manners and skills of the true gentleman. The Music Master introduces his pupil, a young composer who has written an opera Ariadne auf Naxos to be performed that evening for Jourdain's guests, and calls some of the singers to perform musical items. The Dancing Master describes the comic entertainment Unfaithful Zerbinetta and her Four Lovers which is also to be performed, and Jourdain dances a minuet. The Fencing Master gives a lesson and Jourdain is dressed by the Tailor in his lavish new clothes. Mme Jourdain mocks her husband for his pretensions. The dissolute nobleman Dorante arrives to borrow more money and describes the beauty of the widowed Marquise Dorimène, in whose honour the dinner party is being given. In the evening Dorante escorts Dorimène to Jourdain's house, only to find the host not yet dressed. Dinner is served with Rhine salmon, saddle of mutton and a dish of larks and thrushes (accompanied by musical allusions), followed by an omelette surprise with a kitchen-boy emerging from the dish with an erotic dance. Mme Jourdain accuses Dorimène of having designs on her husband and, insulted, she leaves the table. Jourdain announces that the opera and the comedy must be performed simultaneously so that the fireworks can begin promptly at 9pm.
The guests take their seats and the music begins. Three nymphs sing of the sadness of Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus. Ariadne bemoans her fate and Jourdain complains about her monotonous singing. Zerbinetta, with the comedians in the wings, suggests Harlequin sings a cheerful song. Taking no notice Ariadne calls for Hermes, the messenger of death. The male comedians attempt to divert her, but Zerbinetta sends them off-stage and confides with Ariadne about the plight of all women at the hands of faithless men, while declaring women should be just as fickle in love. Ariadne retreats into her cave and the comedians' entertainment takes place with Harlequin winning Zerbinetta's affections. The three nymphs herald the arrival of Bacchus, who has escaped the lures of the sorceress Circe. Ariadne believes him to be Hermes and Zerbinetta tries to prepare her for the truth. Ariadne ignores her and offers herself up to Bacchus. Dorante and Dorimène slip out of the theatre early. Zerbinetta returns to the stage with the comedians, repeating her prediction: 'a new god approaches and we surrender without a word', and the entertainment ends. Jourdain has nodded off and wakes alone, wishing he could behave as badly as the nobility and think nothing of it.