L'africaine





In five acts by MEYERBEER.



Text by E. SCRIBE, translated by GUMPERT.





L'Africaine, one of the Maestro's last operas (1865), unites in itself

all the strength and at the same time all the weakness of Meyerbeer's

composition.



The music is easy flowing and enthralls us with its delicious melodies;

but it only appeals to our senses, and nobler thoughts are altogether

wanting. Nevertheless the opera finds favor by reason of these

advantages, which are supplemented by an interesting, though rather

improbable libretto.



The famous Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama (born in 1469) is the

hero, though he does not appear in the best possible light, and is by

no means strictly historical.



The first scene is laid in Lisbon. Donna Ines, Admiral Diego's

daughter is to give her hand to Don Pedro, a counsellor of King

Emmanuel of Portugal. But she has pledged her faith to Vasco de Gama,

who has been sent with Diaz, the navigator, to double the Cape, in

order to seek for a new land, containing treasures, similar to those

discovered by Columbus. Reports have reached Lisbon, that the whole

fleet has been destroyed, when suddenly Vasco de Gama appears before

the assembled council of state.



He eloquently describes the dangers of the unknown seas near the Cape

and gives an account of the shipwreck, from which he alone has escaped.

He then places his maps before the council, endeavouring to prove, that

beyond Africa there is another country, yet to be explored and

conquered.



Vasco has on his way home picked up a man and a woman of an unknown

race. Those slaves however stubbornly refuse to betray the name of

their country, and a lively debate ensues between the Grand Inquisitor

and the younger more enlightened members of the council, as to the

course, which should be adopted with Vasco. At last, owing to the

irritation caused by his violent reproaches, fanaticism is victorious,

and instead of being furnished with a ship to explore those unknown

lands, he is thrown into prison, on the plea of his being a heretic,

for having maintained the existence of countries which were not

mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.



The second act takes place in a cell of the Inquisition, in which Vasco

has been languishing for a month past, in the company of the strange

slaves Nelusco and Selica. The latter has lost her heart to the proud

Portuguese, who saved her and her companion from a slave-ship. But

Vasco is only thinking of Ines, and Nelusco, who honors in Selica not

only his Queen, but the woman of his love, tries to stab Vasco--the

Christian, whom he hates with a deadly hatred. Selica hinders him and

rouses the sleeping Vasco, who has been dreaming of and planning his

voyage to the unknown country.



Selica now shows him on the map the way to her native isle, and he vows

her eternal gratitude. His liberty is indeed near at hand, for hardly

has he given his vow, than Ines steps in to announce that Vasco is

free. She has paid dearly for her lover's deliverance however, for she

has given her hand to Vasco's rival Don Pedro, who, having got all

Vasco's plans and maps, is commissioned by government, to set out on

the voyage of discovery.



Ines has been told, that Vasco has forgotten her for Selica the slave.

In order to prove his fidelity, our ungrateful hero immediately

presents her with the two slaves, and Don Pedro resolves to make

use of them for his exploration.



In the third act we are on board of Don Pedro's ship in the Indian

seas. Donna Ines is with her husband and Nelusco has been appointed

pilot. Don Alvar, a member of the council and Don Pedro's friend,

warns the latter, that Nelusco is meditating treason, for they have

already lost two ships; but Pedro disregards the warning. A typhoon

arises, and Nelusco turns the ship again northward. But Vasco has

found means to follow them on a small sailing vessel; he overtakes them

and knowing the spot well where Diaz was shipwrecked, he entreats them

to change their course, his only thought being Donna Ines' safety. But

Pedro, delighted to have his rival in his power, orders him to be bound

and shot. Ines hearing his voice, invokes her husband's mercy. Just

then the tempest breaks out, the vessel strikes upon a rock and the

cannibals inhabiting the neighboring country leap on board to liberate

their Queen Selica and to massacre the whole crew, in the fulfilment of

which intention they are however arrested by Selica.



In the following acts Selica resides as Queen on the Isle of

Madagascar. The people render her homage, but her priests demand the

strangers' lives as a sacrifice to their gods, while the women are

condemned to inhale the poisoned perfume of the Manzanillo-tree.--In

order to save Vasco Selica proclaims him her husband and takes Nelusco

as witness, swearing to him that if Vasco is sacrificed she will

die with him. Nelusco, whose love for his Queen is greater even than

his hatred for Vasco, vouches for their being man and wife, and the

people now proceed to celebrate the solemn rites of marriage.



Vasco, at last recognizing Selica's great love, and believing Ines

dead, once more vows eternal fidelity to her, but alas, hearing the

voice of Ines, who is about to be led to death, he turns pale and

Selica but too truly divines the reason.



In the fifth act Selica is resolved to put her rival to death. She

sends for her, but perceiving Ines' love, her wrath vanishes, her

magnanimity soars above her hatred of the Christians, and she orders

Nelusco to bring Ines and Vasco on board of a ship about to sail for

Portugal.



Selica herself, unable to endure life without her beloved-one, proceeds

to the Cape, where the Manzanillo-tree spreads his poisonous

shade.--Her eyes fastened on the vast ocean and on the white sail of

the retiring vessel, she inhales the sweet but deadly perfume of the

blossoms and the returning Nelusco finds her dying, while an unseen

chorus consoles her with the thought that in Love's eternal domain all

are equal.





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