fully staged opera

Le Timbre d’argent

by Camille Saint-Saëns

Drame lyrique in four acts on a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, completed in 1865 and first performed on 23 February 1877 at the Théâtre National Lyrique in Paris.

9 June 2017 – 8 p.m.
Opéra Comique
Tickets 6 to 135 € Book
11 June 2017 – 3 p.m.
Opéra Comique
Tickets 6 to 135 € Book
13 June 2017 – 8 p.m.
Opéra Comique
Tickets 6 to 135 € Book
15 June 2017 – 8 p.m.
Opéra Comique
Tickets 6 to 135 € Book
17 June 2017 – 8 p.m.
Opéra Comique
Tickets 6 to 135 € Book
19 June 2017 – 8 p.m.
Opéra Comique
Tickets 6 to 135 € Book

Production Opéra Comique
Co-production Palazzetto Bru Zane / Oper Köln

Recording by the Palazzetto Bru Zane’s for the “Opéra français” CD-books series

The opera will be recorded by France Musique

Perhaps no opera has ever had a more complex career than Saint-Saëns’s Le Timbre d’argent (The silver bell). Completed in 1865, just after the composer’s second failure to win the Prix de Rome, the work had to wait until 1877 to be premiered – in a version with spoken dialogue – at the Théâtre National Lyrique, under the direction of Jules Danbé. The abrupt closure of that house prevented any revival of the work, and the composer proceeded, at the behest of theatre directors who promised to stage it, to modify the physiognomy of a score he regarded as one of his finest. Le Timbre d’argent was subsequently heard, among other revivals, in Monte Carlo (1905) and at La Monnaie in Brussels (1914), in a wholly sung version restoring tableaux that had been cut in 1877 despite Saint-Saëns’s protests. Should we be surprised that the composer so stoutly defended a work whose subject, as he said himself, ‘is none other than the struggle of an artist’s soul against the vulgarities of life, his inability to live and think like everyone else’? Le Timbre d’argent is of primordial importance in the history of French opera, since it was composed amid the great Wagnerian debate, according to innovative precepts. Foreshadowing the phantasmagoria of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, its story takes place almost entirely within the confines of… a nightmare. And the final scene is no less than a cinematic flashback long before such a thing existed. Saint-Saëns later wrote with amusement: ‘This piece was seen as a revolutionary and prodigiously advanced work’ (March 1914). The Palazzetto Bru Zane and the Opéra Comique offer a chance to discover the definitive version, revised by Saint-Saëns himself (and therefore without cuts) for La Monnaie in 1914.

François-Xavier Roth music director
Guillaume Vincent stage director
James Brandily set designer
Baptiste Klein video
Fanny Brouste wardrobe
Kelig Le Bars lighting
Herman Diephuis movement coordinator
Benoît Datteze magician
Jordan Gudefin assistant music director
Céline Gaudier assistant stage director
Pierre-Guilhem Coste assistant set designer
Peggy Sturm wardrobe assistant
Mathieu Pordoy chief accompanist
Christophe Grapperon choirmaster

Conrad Edgaras Montvidas
Hélène Hélène Guilmette
Spiridion Tassis Christoyannis
Bénédict Yu Shao
Rosa Jodie Devos
Circée / Fiametta, dancer Raphaëlle Delaunay
Dancers Aina Alegre, Marvin Clech, Romual Kabore, Nina Santes


Act I
It is Christmas eve, and a little-known Viennese painter, Conrad, rebels against his impoverished circumstances. Nothing can relieve his despair, not the happiness of the people, or his friend Bénédict, or the doctor. Not even his humble sweetheart, Hélène, whose sister Rosa is about to marry Bénédict. Infatuated by a black-hearted ballet dancer, whom he has painted as Circe, Conrad accuses the doctor Spiridion of bringing him bad luck and being the devil incarnate. Overwhelmed by the sound of festive songs and his self-hatred, he faints in front of the portrait, which seems to be mocking him. In his dream, a chorus of nymphs sing as Circe dances under the command of the doctor, who has now changed his appearance. He gives Conrad a magic object, a silver bell which, each time it is rung, causes the death of an innocent person, but brings him riches beyond belief. When he wakes, the bewitched Conrad strikes the bell. There is a cascade of gold, but Hélène’s and Rosa’s father falls down dead at his door.

Act II
At the theatre, the ballet dancer Fiametta receives tributes from her admirers: diamonds from Conrad, whose sudden wealth is causing a stir, and a tiara from Spiridion who, in the guise of a marquis, wants to incite Conrad to further murders. Fiametta practises her “Dance of the Bee” for them. Both rivals promise her a palace and compete at the gaming table. When Fiametta slips away to perform on stage, Bénédict manages to approach his friend and invite him to his wedding. Hélène, hidden behind a tapestry, sings of a simple, modest life of happiness, but Conrad will not relinquish his dangerous passion. On stage, Fiametta is a triumphant success. When the curtain falls, the marquis reappears dressed as an Italian strolling player and transforms the stage of the theatre into a palace prepared for a banquet. Ignored by his beloved and learning that he is ruined, Conrad chases the guests away and wrecks the feast, trying his utmost to resist the temptation of the silver bell.

In the cottage given by Conrad to the young women to make up for their father’s murder, Rosa is preparing for her wedding and begs Hélène to tell her why she is so sad. Bénédict brings Conrad to see them. Although he had buried the silver bell in the cottage garden, he seems determined to repent. However, Spiridion and Fiametta appear, dressed as travellers: the dancer promises to love Conrad even though he is now poor again. Wild with joy, Conrad wants to present her with a fortune and goes to dig up the talisman. Disguised as gypsies, Spiridion and Fiametta liven up the wedding by performing supernatural dances, during which Bénédict falls down dead. Fiametta leads Conrad away.

Act IV
It is carnival night and the masked revellers choose Conrad as their king of the fools. He cannot forget the bell, which lies at the bottom of a riverbed. Spiridion fuels his torment by summoning up a fantastic ballet in which Fiametta is dazzling as Circe. Conrad appeals to Hélène, who confronts the courtesan. In a fit of delirium, Conrad calls for the bell so that he may kill Hélène. The ghost of Bénédict hands it to him. Finding the strength to break it, Conrad collapses and falls victim to Spiridion. In his studio, Conrad wakes from a long nightmare. The crisis is over and he asks for Hélène’s hand in marriage, cheerfully accepting the prospect of a humble, hardworking life.

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