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Pénélope

Gabriel Fauré 1845-1924

Poème lyrique in three acts
Libretto by René Fauchois after Homer
First performed March 4 1913, Opéra, Monte Carlo

Sung in French with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin

A woman. A man. The thread has snapped. Twenty years have passed since he went to a war, from which he never returned. Is he still alive? What's keeping him? Did he forget her long ago? Memories and hope become lost in time. Faithful, lonely Penelope waits for his return, while he – artful Odysseus – wanders from one adventure to the next. Based on the last book of the Odyssey, Gabriel Fauré's only opera concentrates on Penelope's side of the story: a complicated female figure, who doesn't just wait and weave, her working days separated by sleep, trying to ignore her suitors' ultimatums. Although Pelelope's husband is vividly omnipresent in her mind and heart – when he does return he's a stranger she doesn't recognise. While they both try and become close again, the question of whether love can survive time raises its ugly head.

An interest in Greek myths and an encouraging friend, a singer, resulted in Gabriel Fauré, in advanced years, finally writing an opera. The composer's talent for inventing melodies for songs, chamber music and orchestral suites was now masterly. With psychological sensitivity and elegant, transparent orchestral language he created a three-demensional portrait of Pénélope as a living, feeling, desirable strong-minded woman. The influence of Wagner's operas and Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande , interweaving of leit motifs and flowing dialogue, shine through unmistakably. Fauré treated his figures with empathy, making the myth tangible to the present day, in a world without gods, through „human emotions and super human music“.