214. Haÿdée (Auber)


  • Opéra-comique in 3 acts
  • Libretto: Eugène Scribe, after Prosper Mérimée’s La Partie de trictrac
  • Composer: Esprit Auber
  • First performed: Théâtre Royal de l’Opéra-Comique (2e salle Favart), 28 December 1847, directed by Louis Palianti

LORÉDAN, admiral of VeniceTenorGustave-Hippolyte Roger
MALIPIERI, bombardier captainBassLéonard Hermann-Léon
ANDRÉA DONATO, ensignTenorMarius-Pierre Audran
DOMENICO, sailorTenorEdmond-Jules Delaunay-Riquier
RAFAËLA, Lorédan’s wardSopranoSophie Grimm
HAŸDÉE, a Greek slaveSopranoAnne-Benoîte-Louise Lavoye
Venetian officers, sailors and soldiers, Venetian senators, PeopleChorus 

SETTING: Venice, 16th century.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Haÿdée is a more serious work than one expects from Auber, and it compels one to take him more seriously. This story of guilt, blackmail, and revenge in Venice is a Verdian subject treated at times almost in the manner of early Wagner by a ‘light’ French composer.

Much of it is in free-ranging arioso, combining heightened recitative with more conventionally tuneful passages; Auber experiments with novel harmonies; and there is a remarkable sleepwalking scene where the melodic and psychological interest is in the orchestra, rather than in the voice.

Giacomo Meyerbeer, the master of grand opéra, found it “dramatic and interesting. The melodic element in this music is surprisingly curtailed for such a tuneful composer as Auber. On the other hand, the dramatic dimension of the music and the orchestration are most arresting, composed with aptness and skill.”[i]

The opera takes place in Dalmatia and Venice during the early sixteenth century, during the wars against the Turks. The admiral Lorédan Grimani is troubled by guilt. Some years before, he cheated at dice to stave off ruin, and his best friend, the senator Donato, lost all his money, and killed himself. To make amends, Lorédan has adopted Donato’s niece, Rafaëla, as his ward, and intends to marry her – not because he loves her, but to protect her. Rafaëla loves Donato’s son Andréa, who serves incognito as a captain in Lorédan’s fleet, and one day intends to be as great as the admiral. The naval officer Malipieri also wants to marry Rafaëla, but Lorédan has refused him. Malipieri serves Lorédan, but only to serve his turn upon him; he is a spy for the Council of Ten, envious of the admiral, and hates him deeply. Also in Lorédan’s household is the Greek slave Haÿdée, a Cypriot prince’s daughter, once owned by Malipieri, and ransomed by Lorédan, whom she loves.

Act I is set in the governor’s palace in Zara, on the Dalmatian coast, the eve of a naval battle. In his remorse, Lorédan is prone to fits of sleepwalking, in which he relives his crime; Malipieri witnesses one of these somnambulistic trances, and discovers Lorédan’s secret.

The Introduction (No. 1) begins with Lorédan’s vigorous, tuneful barcarolle and drinking chorus, ‘Enfants de la noble Venise’; in an aside, the admiral confesses his remorse. The best-known piece in the opera is Haÿdée’s Couplets (No. 2), ‘Il dit à sa noble patrie’, a graceful allegro moderato aria which Odette Carlyle and Renée Doria recorded in the gramophone age.

Malipieri expresses his admiration for Rafaëla and demands her hand in his Couplets (No. 3), ‘À la voix séduisante au regard virginal’; the beginning has a lyrical bloom, but it develops into heightened recitative. The next number, ‘Mes jours voués à la tristesse’, is described as a Quartet (No. 4), but it’s a scene rather than a quartet in the formal Rossinian sense: it begins with Lorédan’s cavatine, and develops into a duet; then follows recitative; Andréa’s heroic ‘Ainsi que vous’, full of youthful courage and optimism; more recitative; and the piece ends as an ensemble. In the Finale (No. 5), the two soprani, Haÿdée and Rafaëla, lull Lorédan to sleep with a pretty Sicilienne (No. 5), ‘C’est la fête au Lido’. Malipieri reveals his hatred for Lorédan in an intense mixture of declamation and lyricism, ‘Me voici, général, à vos ordres sévères j’accours!’.

The Sicilienne. Engraving by Victor Coindre.

The Sleepwalking Scene is an extremely effective close to the act: a powerful and unusual scene that Auber treats with great imagination and a sense of theatre. It is a very advanced piece that could have been written 30 years later; Auber is clearly thinking in terms of scenes rather than numbers. The barcarolle, ‘Ah! que la nuit est belle’, is taken through several key changes; later, Lorédan’s vocal line is monotonous – he sings almost an entire page on middle G, for instance; under this monotonous note, the orchestra depicts his psychological turmoil.

“Despite the situation, the composer’s verve remained wide awake,” quipped Le Charivari[ii]. Viel[iii] (Ménestrel) considered it the principal number in the work: “The alternations of joy and sorrow, hope and remorse, are admirably painted by the musician, and the delightful cantilena, ‘Ah! que Venise est belle!’, sombre or brilliant depending on the situation, and so naturally reproduced on various occasions, conveys to the soul of the spectator all the impressions that disturb the actor onstage. (We would have liked to shout ‘Encore!’, but we did not dare.)”

Henri Blanchard (Revue et gazette musicale) was impressed by the treatment of the barcarolle, whose bold modulations made the listener feel a sort of dread and unease. The first violins play a tremolo at the top of the pitch on A flat, while the bass and clarinets plays the barcarolle in C major – an unusual and novel effect. More recently, David LeMarrec was intrigued by this bizarre superposition that gives the impression of simultaneously hearing an F minor, evoking Lorédan’s dream state and troubled conscience.

The Sleepwalking Scene was too advanced for some critics. A. d’Artigues[iv] (Courrier français) admired the scene’s dramatic qualities, but thought the sustained discordance between singing and accompaniment would not have been accepted from anyone but Auber.

Chaperon’s sketch for Act II.

Act II is set on the Venetian admiral’s flagship, after the battle. Lorédan defeated the Turkish fleet; his own efforts to seek an expiatory death are fruitless. Andréa captured a ship, and Lorédan, learning his identity, gives him command of the vessel – angering Malipieri, who wanted the prize for himself. As the ship arrives in Venice, Malipieri vows vengeance.

The entr’acte describes the battle at sea; contemporary critics found it too noisy. Artigues[v] called it “the most abominable cacophony… The bass drum would shatter the nerves of a statue, all with the intention of imitating cannonshots.” The Act II introduction (No. 6: ‘Victoire aux enfants de Saint Marc’) begins with a jubilant sailors’ chorus, while Lorédan confides his longing to die; a gambling / quarrel scene similar to Act I of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (1831), an attractive, rhythmic chorus; Malipieri’s hint that he knows Lorédan’s secret; and a sombre, powerful, andante ensemble.

Rafaëla’s andante romance, ‘Unis par la naissance’ (No. 7), starts with an exquisite, melancholy orchestral oboe solo (heard in the overture); the cabaletta, while pleasant, does not live up to this opening.

Haÿdée’s Chanson de la Brise (No. 8), ‘C’est la corvette qui leste et coquette’, is the soprano’s obligatory light relief showpiece (like the Aragonaise in Le Domino noir or the concert aria in Les Diamants de la couronne); the chorus, singing through closed mouths, imitates the sea breeze. This crowd-pleasing number delighted the Opéra-Comique audiences.

Malipieri tries to blackmail Lorédan; the ensuing duet, ‘Je sais le début qui s’agite’ (No. 9), is theatrically effective, largely declamatory with more melodic passages (‘Malgré moi’). The Finale (No. 10) contains a reminiscence of Andréa’s Act I aria when Lorédan gives him command of the captured Turkish vessel, and ends with a brilliant ensemble as the ship approaches Venice. In the original production, there was a splendid panorama: the monuments, quays, and port were seen in the distance, then increased in size as the ship entered the city.

Press illustration for Act II.

Act III takes place in the Palazzo Grimani in Venice. Lorédan’s victory is celebrated, but the admiral intends to kill himself, fearing Malipieri will expose his secret to the doge and the Council. Haÿdée prevents him, and to save him, agrees to marry Malipieri, and so obtain a document confessing Lorédan’s guilt. Andréa, however, kills Malipieri in a duel – a crime that only the doge can forgive. Fortunately, Lorédan is appointed dodge, pardons the young sailor, and marries Haÿdée.

The Compiègne production replaces the dialogue with recitative Auber wrote for a London production, making Haÿdée seem more advanced than it is; an opéra-comique without any spoken dialogue would have been radical in the 1840s.

Haÿdée’s Air (No. 11), ‘Je suis dans son palais’, is a prettily sung coloratura waltz, but I can’t detect much melody; the piece leaves me rather cold. Still, Haÿdée’s high E earns the soprano enthusiastic applause. Andréa sings an attractive Barcarolle (No. 12), ‘Glisse, glisse, ô ma gondole’, a splash of Venetian local colour. A rather standard march and chorus (No. 13, ‘Flottez étendard du prophète’) hails the triumphant Lorédan. He, however, intends to commit suicide, and bids farewell to life in an expressive andante aria, ‘Adieu donc, noble ville!’ (No. 14); an offstage chorus of soldiers praising him is used to good effect. Before he can kill himself, Haÿdée rushes on, and declares her love for him in a beautiful phrase; this launches a good duet, ending in a dramatic allegro. Haÿdée offers herself to Malipieri in exchange for his silence; the duet, ‘Eh bien puisqu’il le veut’ (No. 15), subordinates music to drama; it is almost a scene with lyric unison parts. The opera ends with a final chorus (No. 16), ‘Que retentissent mon âme’.

Haÿdée was a lasting success, performed 522 times by 1898. For Félix Clément[vi] (Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869), it was the most distinguished work of Auber’s third period, while critics in 1848 were struck by the unexpected power of Scribe and Auber’s latest opéra-comique.

“What we had most admired up to now in M. Scribe’s poems,” wrote Edmond Viel[vii] (Le Ménestrel), “was a marvellous skill of combinations and an inexhaustible fund of scenic surprises; to these merits, already so considerable, the author of Haÿdée has added, this time, a stronger conception, a more powerful dramatic impetus, and above all, a moral thought whose developments give rise to an interest as sustained as it is moving.

“M. Auber, on his side, seemed to draw new strength, new resources from the new effects furnished him by his faithful collaborator; never has the illustrious maestro who endowed our stage with so many masterpieces shown himself more happily and more constantly inspired; never has he been fresher and younger in his melody, more distinguished in his harmonic writing, more elegant in his accompaniments.”

The critic of the Agent dramatique du Midi[viii], however, thought Haÿdée would have made a good grand opéra; the intrigue was too serious for an opéra-comique plot, but Auber’s score was worthy of the composer of La Muette de Portici (1828).


Isabelle Philippe (Haÿdée), Bruno Comparetti (Lorédan), Stéphane Malbec Garcia (Domenico), Anne-Sophie Schmidt (Rafaëla), Paul Médioni (Malipieri), Mathias Vidal (Andréa Donato), with the Orchestre français Albéric Magnard conducted by Michel Swierczewski, Compiègne, 2004.


  • Le Charivari, 30 December 1847
  • L’Indépendant, 30 December 1847
  • Ed. Viel, Le Ménestrel, 2 January 1848
  • Henri Blanchard, Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 2 January 1848
  • A. d’Artigues, Courrier français, 11 January 1848
  • L’Agent dramatique du Midi, 30 December 1848
  • Robert Ignatius Letellier, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber: The Man and His Music, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010

[i] Quoted in Letellier, Auber, p. 404.

[ii] Le Charivari, 30 December 1847: « Malgré la situation, la verve du compositeur s’est tenue fort éveillée. »

[iii] Viel, Ménestrel, op. cit.: « Cette scène peut passer pour le morceau capital de l’ouvrage : les alternatives de joie et de douleur, d’espérance et de remords, y sont admirablement peintes par le musicien, et cette délicieuse cantilène : Ah! que Venise est belle! Sombre ou éclatante suivant la situation, et si naturellement reproduite à diverses reprises, fait passer dans l’âme du spectateur toutes les impressions qui agitent l’acteur en scène (on aurait bien voulu crier bis , on ne l’a pas osé). »

[iv] A. d’Artigues, Courrier français, 11 January 1848 : « Cette scène est très dramatique, surtout par la manière dont la joue M. Roger; ce qui pour le public ajoute à l’effet de la situation, c’est une discordance soutenue pendant quelques mesures entre le chant et l’accompagnement. Cette excentricité, nous le croyons fermement, n’eût pas été aussi bien accueillie de la part de tout autre que de M. Auber. Nous avouerons que la situation, le sentiment à exprimer peuvent autoriser ces accords faux pour un cri d’épouvante, pour un instant rapide où le désordre de la passion à rendre passe dans la musique et la marque d’une couleur étrange, surnaturelle ; mais, l’occasion n’était pas telle ici et il ne pouvait qu’être pénible d’entendre se prolonger cet accompagnement en mineur sous un chant en majeur. La chose a réussi; cependant gare aux imitateurs. »

[v] d’Artigues, Courrier français, op. cit. « Avant le lever du rideau, l’orchestre joue un simulacre de bataille navale, qui est bien la plus abominable cacophonie qu’on puisse entendre. La grosse caisse y tonne faux à briser les nerfs d’une statue, le tout dans l’intention d’imiter les coups de canon. Pour qui donc M. Auber a-t-il cru devoir écrire cela? Le public n’est plus si neuf, et il pourrait s’apercevoir de la plaisanterie. »

See also : Henri Blanchard, Revue et gazette musicale de Paris (2 January 1848) :« Du premier au second acte, une symphonie bruyante peint le combat naval des Vénitiens contre les Turcs. Ceci n’est guère que du bruit harmonique… »

[vi] Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras (1869) : « Cet ouvrage est la production la plus distinguée de M. Auber dans la troisième phase de sa carrière. … L’effet général de la musique est dramatique et parfaitement approprié à la nature du sujet. L’inspiration y circule abondamment ; l’instrumentation en est colorée, toujours élégante, et l’harmonie offre des effets neufs et piquants. »

[vii] Edmond Viel, Le Ménestrel, 2 January 1848 : « Ce qu’on avait le plus admiré jusqu’ici dans les poèmes de M. Scribe, c’était une merveilleuse adresse de combinaisons et un inépuisable fonds de surprises scéniques; à ces mérites déjà si considérables l’auteur d’Haÿdée a joint, cette fois, une conception plus forte, un ressort dramatique plus puissant, et surtout une pensée morale dont les développements donnent lieu à un intérêt aussi soutenu qu’émouvant. M. Auber, de son côté, a semblé puiser de nouvelles forces, de nouvelles ressources dans les effets nouveaux que lui a fournis son fidèle collaborateur; jamais l’illustre maître qui a doté notre scène de tant de chefs-d’œuvre ne s’est montré plus heureusement et plus constamment inspiré; jamais il n’a été plus frais et plus jeune dans le tour de sa mélodie, plus distingué dans sa facture harmonique, plus élégant dans ses dessins d’accompagnement. »

[viii] L’Agent dramatique du Midi, 30 December 1848 : « Avec quelques changements et un développement plus considérable, Haÿdée eût fait un grand opéra vraiment beau, et à la manière dont M. Auber l’a traité, nous croyons qu’il aurait pu le placer à côté de la Muette. Telle qu’elle est, l’intrigue est lourde, embarrassée et trop sérieuse pour une intrigue d’opéra-comique. … En résumé, et comme nous le disions en commençant , le libretto est trop grave pour l’opéra comique et la musique vraiment magnifique est presque toujours au-dessus de la situation dramatique. Nous le répétons, et c’est assez dire, je crois, elle est digne de l’auteur de la Muette. »

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