The Bell Of The Hermit
In three acts by LOUIS AIME MAILLART.
LES DRAGONS DE VILLARS.
Text after the French by G. ERNST.
Maillart, who studied under Halevy in Paris and received the Roman
prize (prix de Rome) in the year 1841, composed six operas, all of
which are now almost forgotten with the single exception of "Les
Dragons de Villars" (in 1856), which found favor in Germany by virtue
of its wit and grace.
The music sparkles with French charm and gaiety of the most exquisite
kind and these are the merits by which this unpretentious opera has
kept its place by the side of its grander and more pompous sisters.
The tale is clever and amusing.
The scene is laid in a French mountain-village near the frontier of
Savoy towards the close of the war in the Cevennes in 1704.
In the first act peasant women in the service of Thibaut, a rich
country Squire, are collecting fruit. Georgette, Thibaut's young wife,
controls their work. In compliance with a general request she treats
them to a favorite provencal song, in which a young girl, forgetting
her first vows made to a young soldier, gives her hand to another
suitor. She is interrupted by the sound of trumpets. Thibaut hurrying
up in great distress asks the women to hide themselves at once, because
soldiers are marching into the village. He conceals his own wife in
the pigeon-house. A detachment of dragoons arrive, and Belamy, their
corporal, asks for food and wine at Thibaut's house. He learns, that
there is nothing to be had and in particular, that all the women have
fled, fearing the unprincipled soldiers of King Louis XIV., sent to
persecute the poor Huguenots or Camisards, who are hiding in the
mountains,--further that the "Dragons de Villars" are said to be
an especially wild and dissolute set.
Belamy is greatly disgusted and after having had his dinner and a sleep
in Thibaut's own bed, decides to march on. The Squire gladly offers to
accompany the soldiers to St. Gratien's grotto near the hermitage,
where they have orders to search for the Huguenot refugees.
While Belamy is sleeping, Thibaut calls his servant Silvain and scolds
him because, though his best servant, he has now repeatedly been absent
over-long on his errands; finally orders him to saddle the mules.
Stammering Silvain owns, that they have gone astray in the mountains,
but that he is sure of their being found in due time. While Thibaut
expresses his fear that they may be stolen by the fugitives, Rose
Friquet, an orphan-girl, brings the mules, riding on the back of one of
them. Thibaut loads her with reproaches, but Silvain thanks her
warmly, and though she mockingly repudiates his thanks, he discovers
that she has taken the mules in order not to let the provost into
Silvain's secret. The fact is that Silvain carries food every day to
the refugees, and Rose Friquet, the poor goat-keeper, who is despised
and supposed to be wicked and malicious, protects him in her poor way,
because he once intercepted a stone, which was meant for her head.
While the soldiers are dining, Belamy, who has found Georgette's
bonnet, demands an explanation. Thibaut, confused, finds a
pretext for going out, but Rose betrays to Belamy first the wine-cellar
and then Georgette's hiding-place. The young wife cries for help and
Rose runs in to fetch Thibaut. Belamy is delighted with the pretty
Georgette, but she tells him rather anxiously, that all the wives of
the village must needs remain entirely true to their husbands, for the
hermit of St. Gratien, though dead for two hundred years, is keeping
rigid watch, and betrays every case of infidelity by ringing a little
bell, which is heard far and wide.
Belamy is somewhat desirous to try the experiment with Georgette and
asks her to accompany him to the hermitage instead of her husband.
After having found the other women in the village, the soldiers, to
Thibaut's great vexation, decide to stay and amuse themselves. Silvain
rejoices and after a secret sign from Rose resolves to warn the
refugees in the evening.
In the second act Rose and Silvain meet near St. Gratien. Rose, after
telling him that all the paths are occupied by sentries, promises to
show him a way for the refugees, which she and her goat alone know.
Silvain, thanking her warmly, endeavours to induce her to care more for
her outward appearance, praising her pretty features. Rose is
delighted to hear for the first time that she is pretty, and the duet
ensuing is one of the most charming things in the opera. Silvain
promises to be her friend henceforth and then leaves, in order to seek
the Camisards. After this Thibaut appears, seeking his wife, whom
he has seen going away with Belamy. Finding Rose he imagines he has
mistaken her for his wife, but she laughingly corrects him and he
proceeds to search for Georgette. Belamy now comes and courts
Thibaut's wife. But Rose, seeing them, resolves to free the path for
the others.--No sooner has Belamy tried to snatch a kiss from his
companion, than Rose draws the rope of the hermit's bell, and she
repeats the proceeding, until Georgette takes flight, while Thibaut
rushes up at the sound of the bell. Belamy reassures him, intimating
that the bell may have rung for Rose (though it never rings for girls)
and accompanies him to the village. But he soon returns to look for
the supposed hermit, who has played him this trick and finds Rose
instead, who does not perceive him.--To his great surprise Silvain
comes up with the whole troop of refugees, leading the aged clergyman,
who had been a father to him in his childhood. Silvain presents Rose
to them as their deliverer and vows to make her his wife.--Rose leads
them to the secret path, while Silvain returns to the village, leaving
Belamy triumphant at his discovery.
In the third act we find the people on the following morning speaking
of nothing but Silvain's wedding with Rose and of the hermit's bell.
Nobody knows who has been the culprit, but Thibaut slily calculates
that the hermit has rung before-hand, when Rose the bride kissed the
dragoon. Having learned that the soldiers had been commanded to
saddle their horses in the midst of the dancing the night before, and
that Belamy, sure of his prey, has come back, he believes that Rose has
betrayed the poor Camisards in order to win the price set on their
heads and this opinion he now communicates to Silvain.
To keep Belamy away from Georgette, the sly Squire has conducted him to
the wine-cellar, and the officier [Transcriber's note: officer?], now
half-drunk admits having had a rendez-vous with Rose.--When Thibaut has
retired, Belamy again kisses Georgette, and lo, the bell does not ring
Meanwhile Rose comes down the hill, neatly clad and glowing with joy
and pride and Georgette disregarding Thibaut's reproofs offers her the
wedding-garland. The whole village is assembled to see the wedding,
but Silvain appears with dark brow and when Rose radiantly greets him,
he pushes her back fiercely, believing that she betrayed the refugees,
who are, as he has heard, caught. Rose is too proud to defend herself,
but when Georgette tries to console her, she silently draws from her
bosom a paper, containing the information that the refugees have safely
crossed the frontier.--Great is Silvain's shame and heartfelt his
repentance.--Suddenly Belamy enters, beside himself with rage, for his
prey has escaped and he has lost his patent as lieutenant together with
the remuneration of 200 pistoles, and he at once orders Silvain to be
shot. But Rose bravely defends her lover, threatening to reveal the
dragoon's neglect of duty. When therefore Belamy's superior
appears to hear the important news of which the messenger told him, his
corporal is only able to stammer out that nothing in particular has
happened, and so after all, Georgette is saved from discovery and Rose
becomes Silvain's happy bride.
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