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
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
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
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
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