Opera Scotland

Briséïs ou Les amants de Corinthe; or The Lovers of Corinth

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Alexis-Emmanuel Chabrier (born Ambert, 18 January 1841; died Paris, 13 September 1894)


Ephraïm Mikhaël and Catulle Mendès.


Ballad The Bride of Corinth (1797) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.



Unfinished – only the first of the three acts exists

First performance: Paris (), 31 January 1897 (concert).

First UK performance: Edinburgh (Usher Hall), 18 August 1994 (concert).

First performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



Goethe’s lurid tale of a conflict between the increasingly common Christianity and the fading embers of paganism is little known in modern times, but was especially popular in nineteenth century France, where several hands had attempted to dramatise it in one form or another. Chabrier worked on the libretto between 1888 and 1890, by which time he had one act completed, but only a few sketches to indicate his intentions in the last two. While his music is impressively modern and dramatic, the libretto is on a much lower level of inspiration, though it is complete, culminating in a suicide pact for the two lovers. Chabrier’s main problem arose from his increasingly frail health, due to the onset of syphilis, and he was unable to make significant progress in his final years. The first performance was given at a memorial concert, and two years later Richard Strauss conducted a staged performance in Berlin.


Main Characters

Hylas (tenor)

Briséïs (soprano)

Thanastô, mother of Briséïs (mezzo-soprano)

Catéchiste, a Christian preacher (baritone)

Stratoklès, head of Thanastô’s household (bass)


Plot Summary

The opera is set in the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Briséïs loves Hylas, who is setting off on a voyage. They swear eternal faithfulness. Her mother is a convert to Christianity, though subject to periods of near-insanity. A hymn to Apollo is heard, followed by a solo for a Christian preacher, who claims that Thanastô will be cured if her daughter converts to Christianity. Members of Thanastô’s household receive this with derision, but Briséïs decides to adopt the new religion, to her mother's great joy.

The Cast

Another Sailor
 a Christian preacher
First Maidservant
Old Sailor
Second Maidservant
 head of Thanastô's household
 mother of Briséïs

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