In one act by GEORGES BIZET.
Text by LOUIS GALLET.
German Translation by LUDWIG HARTMANN.
Djamileh was composed before Carmen, and was given in Paris in 1872.
But after the years of war and bloodshed, its sweetness was out of
place, and so it was forgotten, until it was revived again in Germany.
Though the text is meagre, the opera had great success on the stages
Berlin, Leipsic, Vienna and Dresden, and so its Publisher, Paul
Choudens in Paris was right, when he remarked years ago to a German
critic: "l'Allemagne un jour comprendra les beautes de Djamileh."
There is no more exquisite music, than the romance of the boatsmen on
the Nile, sung with closed lips at the opening of the first scene, and
the ravishing dance of the Almee, an invention of Arabic origine is so
original, so wild and melancholy and yet so sweet, that it enchants
every musical ear. The plot is very simple and meagre.
Harun, a rich young Turk has enjoyed life to its very dregs. He gives
dinners, plays at dice, he keeps women, but his heart remains cold and
empty, he disbelieves in love, and only cares for absolute freedom in
all his actions, but withal his life seems shallow and devoid of
interest. Every month he engages a new female slave, with whom he
idles away his days, but at the end of this time she is discarded. His
antipathy for love partly arises from the knowledge of his father's
unhappy married life.
At the opening of the scene Harun lies on a couch smoking, too lazy to
move a finger and lulled into dreams by the boatsmen's songs. At last
he rouses himself from his lethargy, and tells his secretary and former
tutor Splendiano of his visions. The latter is looking over his
master's accounts, and now tells him dryly, that, if he continues his
style of living, he will be ruined before the end of the year. This
scarcely moves the young man, to whom a year seems a long way off; he
also takes it cooly, when Splendiano remarks, that the latest
favorite's month is up, and that Djamileh is to leave towards evening,
to make room to another beauty. Harun carelessly charges his servant
to look out for another slave. When Splendiano sees, that Djamileh's
unusual beauty has failed to impress his master, he owns to a tender
feeling for her himself, and asks for permission to win the girl.
Harun readily grants this request; but when he sees Djamileh enter with
sad and dejected looks, he tenderly inquires, what ails her. She
sings him a strange and melancholy "Ghasel" about a girl's love for a
hero, and he easily guesses her secret. In order to console her, he
presents her with a beautiful necklace, and grants her her freedom, at
which she brightens visibly, but refuses it. Harun however has no idea
of losing either heart or liberty, and when some friends visit him, he
turns from her, to join them in a game, leaving her unveiled, and
exposed to their insolent stares and admiration. Djamileh, covered
with confusion, begins to weep, at which Splendiano interposes, trying
to console her by the offer of his hand. Scornfully repulsed by her,
he reveals to her the cruel play of his master, and her approaching
dismissal, and drives her almost to despair. But she resolves to show
her love to her master before she leaves him, and for this purpose
entreats Splendiano to let her disguise herself and personate the new
slave; promising to be his, if her plans should fail, but vowing to
herself, to choose death rather than leave her beloved master. The
evening approaches, and with it the slave-dealer with a whole bevey of
beautiful young girls. Harun turns from them indifferently, ordering
Splendiano to choose for him, but the slave-dealer insists upon showing
up the pearl of his flock, a young Almee, who dances the most weird and
passionate figures until she sinks back exhausted. She is selected,
but Splendiano gives 200 zechines to the dealer, who consents to let
her change clothes with Djamileh. When the latter reenters
Harun's room veiled, he is astonished to find her so shy and sad. In
vain he tries to caress her, she escapes him, but suddenly unveiling
herself, he recognizes her. With wild and passionate entreaty she begs
him to let her be a slave again, as she prefers his presence to freedom
and fortune. At first he hesitates, but true love conquers, and he
takes her in his arms. He has found his heart at last, and owns that
love is stronger and better than any other charm.