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La Juive

Fromental Halévy 1799–1862

Opera in 5 acts
Libretto by Eugène Scribe
First performed February 23 1835, Opéra Le Peletier, Paris

Sung in French with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin
there's a chamber music concert on June 9th, inspired by this work

Constance is celebrating: The Christian community are preparing for the opening of the Church Council and Prince Léopold, their supreme commander, has returned victorious from war against the Hussites. Dissidents aren’t welcome today: Ruggiero, the mayor, incites a witch-hunt against the Jewish goldsmith Éléazar and his daughter Rachel, which is halted by Cardinal Brogni’s arrival. Éléazar reminds Brogni that he put both his sons to death in Rome. The Cardinal asks Éléazar for forgiveness, which he denies. Léopold passed himself off to Rachel as a Jewish student called Samuel. They’ve been in a relationship for some time. She invites him to Pessach in her father’s house. Celebrations are in full swing: goaded on by Ruggiero the people are intent on drowning Rachel und Éléazar in the lake. Léopold reveals his true identity to his guards and, to Rachel’s astonishment, calms the furious mob. The Council is ceremoniously opened in view of Emperor Sigismund. Act 2 While the Jewish community secretly celebrate the Passover, Rachel introduces Léopold, alias Samuel, to her father. Éléazar trusts this new visitor and shares bread with him in memory of their mutual ideology. There's a knock on the door: Princess Eudoxie, Léopold’s wife, appears and commissions a piece of jewelry from Éléazar, to give her husband the following day. Rachel’s been harbouring nagging doubts about her lover’s Jewish identity. When she confronts Léopold, he admits he’s a Christian. Aware that relationships between Jews and Christians are punishable by death, Rachel and Léopold dream of a new beginning somewhere else. Éléazar appears and ascertains that his future son-in-law isn’t a Jew, but gives in to Rachel’s pleas and declares himself ready to instruct Léopold in the Jewish faith. Léopold turns the offer down and flees. INTERVAL Léopold returns to his family, where he and Eudoxie try to get closer together. Rachel, who followed him, offers her services to Eudoxie as a slave, which clearly delights the Princess. While Léopold’s being féted for his successful crusades at a public celebration, Rachel announces that he was in a relationship with her, a female Jew. Cardinal Brogni excommunicates Léopold, who is sentenced to death with Rachel and Éléazar. Act 4 Eudoxie begs Rachel, in prison, to drop her charge against Léopold. Cardinal Brogni wants to persuade Éléazar to convert, to save Rachel’s life. The goldsmith refuses but reveals to Brogni that the daughter he thought dead is still alive. Despite the Cardinal’s desperate pleas he refuses to say where she is. Éléazar recalls that it was he who saved Brogni’s daughter and brought her up – as Rachel. Now he’s faced with the dilemma of letting his beloved adoptive daughter die, or persuading her to be baptised. The Christians’ renewed outpouring of hatred makes him decide keep Rachel’s true heritage from her. He wants to die a martyr’s death with her. Act 5 The people are waiting for the execution. Éléazar finds out that Rachel’s recantation acquitted Léopold. His protests are in vain. Plagued by remorse he offers Rachel the chance to save herself by getting baptised. Rachel, not wanting to abandon the Jewish community, chooses death. Brogni asks Éléazar again where his daughter is. Just as Rachel’s being executed he says: »There!«. Brogni collapses. Éléazar’s triumphant.

A divided society tries to settle its inner conflicts. What they need is: an enemy.

Constance at the time of the Council of 1414: Jewish goldsmith Éléazar had the audacity to work on a catholic feast day, so the people want to drown him and his adoptive daughter Rachel in the lake. They're saved by Leopold Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, who's secretly in love with Rachel. When Leopold ends the relationship Rachel publicly accuses him of fornication, which results in Cardinal Brogni excommunicating Leopold, who is sentence to death with Eleazar and Rachel, … can they be saved?

Fromental Halevy believed that art should be dedicated to the great, beautiful and the good, but raise political questions too. He was the first composer to bring a realistic portrayal of Jewish life to the operatic stage in this work. The historical meaning of the Council of Constance, which resulted in the Catholic church ending the schism and having critics burned at the stake, gave Halevý the chance to mirror the world he lived in: liberal and reactionary powers were at loggerheads in France in the 1830s; Jews might have won legal equality but still faced anti-Semetic hostility in everyday life. Then, as today, the question is how a heterogenic society and tolerant co-existence is possible.

Even in the overture Halvey's score contains lyric moments which suddenly turn into destructive cascades of sound. A collective spiral of violence develops, whose blind hatred is finally directed against their own children.