La Reine de Chypre (Fromental Halévy) – dossier


Opéra in 5 acts

By Fromental Halévy

Libretto: Henri de Saint-Georges

First performed: Théâtre de l’Opéra (salle Le Peletier), Paris, 22 December 1841, conducted by François-Antoine Habeneck

Sets:  René Philastre and Charles Cambon. Costumes: Paul Lormier. Divertissements: Joseph Mazilier.


  • CATARINA CORNARO, Andrea’s niece (contralto): Rosine Stoltz
  • ANDREA CORNARO, patrician of Venice (bass): Lucien Bouché
  • GERARD DE COUCY, French knight (tenor): Gilbert Duprez
  • JACQUES DE LUSIGNAN, King of Cyprus (baritone): Paul Barroilhet
  • MOCÉNIGO, Senator, member of the Council of Ten (baritone): Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol
  • STROZZI, Bravi leader (tenor): François Wartel
  • HERALD AT ARMS (bass): Ferdinand Prévôt
  • Venetian Lords and Ladies, Cypriot Lords and Ladies, Bishop of Cyprus, Cathedral clergy, Guards, King of Cyprus’s Court, Cypriots, Courtesans, Bravi

SETTING: Venice and Cyprus, 1441




The great Hall of the Villa Andrea, near Venice

Act I

Récitatif: Enfin c’est aujourd’hui

1. Romance et Duo

  • Romance: Le Ciel est radieux
  • Duo: Gérard, mon Gérard

2. Récitatif et Trio

  • Récitatif: Salut, noble Gérard
  • Trio: O vous la sage providence

3. Duo: Sommes nous seuls ici

4. Choeur dansé: Joie infinie, douce harmonie

5. Air de ballet, Pas de trois

6. Final: L’Autel est préparé



Catarina’s Oratory, overlooking the Great Canal of Venice

7. Choeur et Air

  • Choeur de gondoliers: Aux feux scintillans des étoiles
  • Air: Le gondolier dans sa pauvre nacelle

8. Récitatif et Scène: Dans ta souffrance, ah! ne m’accuse pas

9. Duo: Arbitre de ma vie



The Gardens of the Casino at Nicosia

Act III - esquisse de décor 2

10. Choeur et ensemble: Buvons à Chypre

11. Choeur et couplets

  • Choeur de joueurs: Au jeu mes amis
  • Couplet: Tout n’est dans ce bas monde

12. Choeur dansé: O des banquets joyeux apprêts

13. Récitatif et duo

  • Récitatif: Infâmes assassins, misérable, au secours
  • Duo final: Vous qui de la chevalerie



The great Square of Nicosia

Act IV - esquisse de décor - la grande place de Nicosie

14. Choeur: Le beau jour, la belle fête

15. Air de ballet – La Cypriote

16. Récitatif et choeur

  • Récitatif: Peuple de Chypre, à l’instant on signale
  • Choeur: Divine providence

17. Choeur triomphal: Gloire, gloire à la Reine

18. Scène et air: Le voici donc enfin le jour de la vengeance

19. Final: Qu’ai-je vu, malheureux, c’est lui



Tableau 1: The private apartment of the King of Cyprus

20. A. Récitatif et couplet

  • Récitatif: Des docteurs de Venise, ô le plus vénéré
  • Couplet: Gérard, et c’est lui que j’appelle

20. B. Scène et cavatine

  • Scène: Catarina – Seigneur que vois-je, vous ici
  • Cavatine: A ton noble courage

21. Duo et récitatif

  • Duo: Quand le devoir sacré qui près du Roi m’appelle
  • Récitatif: Gérard fuyez

22. Quatuor: En cet instant suprême

Tableau 2: The Square and Port of Nicosia, seen by moonlight

Act V sc 2.jpg

23. Final: Nous triomphons, victoire

Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869

The poem of this opera is a remarkable literary work. It would even recall the lyric tragedy as it was envisaged in the last century, if the epoch of the action were not close to modern times.


Of all the modern opera libretti, this one is perhaps the best. It gives rise to very dramatic situations that the lamented composer rendered with powerful expressiveness, deep skill, and exquisite sensibility. His genius manifests more brilliantly in several scenes of La Juive, but the score of La Reine de Chypre is admirable from start to finish, and is the richest in tunes of all those he has written.

The general character is serious, energetic, tender, and pathetic. It could not have a vivacity which the subject did not possess.

The introduction offers a cello phrase of high distinction. The romance: Le ciel est radieux, the duo that follows, in which there is a charming ensemble: En ce jour plein de charmes, gracefully inaugurate the tragedy whose knot was formed in the duet between the patrician and the Venetian envoy: Sommes-nous seuls ici?  We will particularly note the phrase: Eh! qu’importe la république et les serments et les amours!

The gondoliers’ chorus, which opens the second act, has often been encored; it is followed by a magnificent scene: Le gondolier, dans sa pauvre nacelle, of a profound melancholy.  No other composer expressed this sentiment as well as M. Halévy.  It was the very bottom of his nature.  Mme Stoltz acted and sang this scene admirably.  Duprez, for his part, sang with great charm the duet: Arbitre de ma vie.

In the gambling scene, we note the syllabic couplets, become popular: Tout n’est dans ce bas monde qu’un jeu.  The grand duet: Vous qui de la chevalerie, with the romance: Triste exilé, is, until the allegro, one of the most beautiful pieces in the repertoire; performed by Duprez and Barroilhet, it electrified the audience.

In the fourth act, we will only note the dance tunes, which are more successful than might be expected from Halévy, and the cantabile: Seul espoir de ma triste vie, a phrase of bitter sadness.  The author has met there, by the very truth of his inspiration, the form of the oldest opera arias where the musical discourse was scrupulously appropriate to the words.  The song is syllabic.  Although executed in a slow movement, it loses nothing of its expression and interest.  Each note, each chord carry and follow the emphasis of the text.

After the touching cavatine sung by Barroilhet: A ton noble courage, the dénouement is being prepared, and as it is brought by the meeting of Gérard and Catarina, the composer has reserved for this duet of the fifth act his best inspirations.  This duet: Malgré la foi suprême, which really begins with Gérard’s recitative: Quand le devoir sacré qui près du roi m’appelle, is a masterpiece.  Nobility of feelings, restrained passion, pain are expressed in a language sublime.

If this work, which is in the hands of all musicians, is not performed at the Opéra as often as it deserves, it must not be attributed to the long tension of serious feelings, to the want of variety, to the somewhat dark hue of tragedy, for the public has been accustomed for thirty years to still darker recreations, such as the Miserere in Trovatore, or the nocturnal murder in Rigoletto.  Besides, we might, if we have to, introduce livelier entertainments into the third act, for which the royal procession would provide the excuse.

The real reason, in our opinion, is that the duet of the fifth act, which explains the past and prepares the dénouement, comes too late, when the public is tired of a long performance, whose slightly solemn movement of sung pieces and recitative made it even longer, and then, is there still an audience for works of this character, distinguished and tender, pathetic and always elevated?

The opera of the Reine de Chypre has been one of the best interpreted in the repertoire.  Mme Stoltz, Duprez, Barroilhet all enjoyed the favour of the public.  Massol sang delightfully the couplets of the dice.  Bouché played Cornaro.