In five acts by GIACOMO MEYERBEER.
Text by SCRIBE.
This is the best opera of this fertile composer, and one with which
only his "Robert le diable" can compare. The music is not only
interesting, but highly dramatic; the "mise en scene", the
brilliant orchestration, the ballet, everything is combined to
fascinate the hearer. We find such an abundance of musical ideas, that
we feel Berlioz but spoke the truth, when he said that it would do for
twenty others of its kind.
The scene is laid in France, at the time of the bloody persecutions of
the Protestants or Huguenots by the Catholics. The Duke of Medicis has
apparently made peace with Admiral Coligny, the greatest and most
famous of the Huguenots, and we are introduced into the castle of Count
Nevers, where the catholic noblemen receive Raoul de Nangis, a
protestant, who has lately been promoted to the rank of captain.
During their meal they speak of love and its pleasures, and everybody
is called on to give the name of his sweetheart. Raoul begins, by
telling them, that once when taking a walk, he surprised a band of
students, molesting a lady in a litter. He rescued her and as she
graciously thanked him for his gallant service, he thought her more
beautiful than any maiden he had ever before seen. His heart burnt
with love for her, though he did not know her name. While Raoul drinks
with the noblemen, Marcel, his old servant warns him of the danger of
Marcel is a strict old protestant and sings a ballad of the Huguenots
to the young people, a song wild and fanatic. They laugh at his
impotent wrath, when a lady is announced to Count Nevers, in whom Raoul
recognizes the lady of his dreams.
Of course he believes her false and bad, while as a matter of fact she
only comes to beseech Nevers, her destined bridegroom, to set her free.
Nevers does so, though not without pain. When he returns to his
companions, he conceals the result of the interview, and presently
Urbain, a page, enters with a little note for Raoul de Nangis, in which
he is ordered to attend a lady, unknown to him. The others recognize
the seal of Queen Margarita of Valois, and finding him so worthy, at
once seek to gain his friendship.
In the second act we find Raoul with the beautiful Queen, who is trying
to reconcile the Catholics with the Protestants. To this end the Queen
has resolved to unite Raoul with Valentine, her lady of honor, and
daughter of the Count of St. Bris, a staunch catholic. Valentine tells
her heart's secret to her mistress, for to her it was that Raoul
brought assistance, and she loves him. The noble Raoul, seeing
Margarita's beauty and kindness, vows himself her knight, when suddenly
the whole court enters to render her homage. Recognizing her at last
to be the Queen, Raoul is all the more willing to fulfil her wishes and
offers his hand in reconciliation to the proud St. Bris, promising to
wed his daughter. But when he perceives in her the unknown lady, whom
he believes to be so unworthy, he takes back his word. All are
surprised, and the offended father vows bloody vengeance.
In the third act Marcel brings a challenge to St. Bris, which the
latter accepts, but Maurevert, a fanatical catholic nobleman, tells him
of other ways in which to annihilate his foe. Valentine though deadly
offended with her lover, resolves to save him. Seeing Marcel, she bids
him tell his master not to meet his enemy alone. Meanwhile Raoul is
already on the spot, and so is St. Bris with four witnesses. While
they fight, a quarrel arises between the catholic and the protestant
citizens, which is stopped by Queen Margarita. The enemies accuse each
other, and when the Queen is in doubt as to whom she shall believe,
Valentine appears to bear witness. Then Raoul hears that her interview
with Nevers had been but a farewell, sought for but to loosen forever
the ties which her father had formed for her against her will; but the
knowledge of his error comes too late, for St. Bris has once more
promised his daughter to Nevers, who at this moment arrives with many
guests, invited for the wedding. The presence of the Queen preserves
peace between the different parties, but Raoul leaves the spot with
death in his heart.
In the fourth act the dreadful night of St. Bartholomew is already
We find Valentine in her room despairing. Raoul comes to take a last
farewell, but almost immediately St. Bris enters with a party of
Catholics and Raoul is obliged to hide in the adjoining room. There he
hears the whole conspiracy for the destruction of the Protestants,
beginning with their leader, Admiral Coligny. The Catholics all assent
to this diabolical plot; Nevers alone refuses to soil his honor,
and swears only to fight in open battle. The others, fearing treason,
decide to bind and keep him prisoner until the next morning. Raoul
prepares to save his brethren or die with them. Vain are Valentine's
entreaties; though she confesses to her love for him, he yet leaves
her, though with a great effort, to follow the path of duty.
In the last act Raoul rushes pale and bloody into the hall, where Queen
Margarita sits with her husband, Henry of Navarre, surrounded by the
court; He tells them of the terrific events, which are going on
outside, and beseeches their help. It is too late however, Coligny has
already fallen, and with him most of the Huguenots.
Raoul meets Valentine once more; she promises to save him, if he will
go over to her faith. But Marcel reminds him of his oath, and
Valentine, seeing that nothing can move her lover's fortitude and
firmness, decides to remain with him. She accepts his creed and so
they meet death together, Valentine falling by the side of her deadly
wounded lover, both praising God with their last breath.