Opera Scotland

Mamelles de Tirésias Les mamelles de Tirésias; The Breasts of Tiresias

Tours by decade

2010s - 2 tours

2015 - Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Fully Staged, reduced orchestration
2019 - Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Francis Poulenc (born Paris, 7 January 1899; died Paris, 30 January 1963).


The composer.


Play (1903, rev 1917) by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918).



First Performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 3 June 1947.

First Performance in UK: Aldeburgh (Jubilee Hall), 16 June 1958.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (George Square Theatre), 18 February 1970.



The historical  importance of this piece lies in the fact that its author, Apollinaire, invented the term 'Surrealist' to describe it. The frivolous, twenties-influenced, jazz-infused score can also be seen as a reaction to the devastation wreaked on France by the two world wars. The injunction to the audience to repopulate the nation was not entirely frivolous.

While composed for orchestral accompaniment, the first British production was performed in an arrangement for two pianos - which were played by Benjamin Britten and Francis Poulenc themselves.

This version was recently revived at Aldeburgh, and may allow this hilariously ribald work to gain wider currency.


Main Characters

Thérèse (soprano)

Her Husband (tenor)

Gendarme (baritone)

Theatre Director (baritone)

M Presto, a fat drunk (baritone)

M Lacouf, a thin drunk (tenor)

Newspaper seller (mezzo-soprano)

Journalist from Paris (tenor)


Plot Summary

In a brief but serious prologue, the theatre director suggests that the audience should all do their bit to repopulate the world - make love not war.

The setting is the imaginary seaside resort of Zanzibar, on the Riviera. Thérèse is a bored housewife, fed up with her tedious husband and more interested in being a soldier. As she dreams of how life would be if she were a man, her breasts (in the form of balloons) float up into the air and explode, as she starts to grow a beard. Her husband arrives, and is bluntly told that Tirésias is no longer his wife.

Two cheerful drunks come out of the café discussing a gambling incident, as a result of which they fight a duel and shoot one another. The mourning is led by Thérèse in male attire. Her husband, now dressed as a female, is amused to find that in this guise he becomes attractive to the local gendarme. He volunteers to provide the children that the women of the town seem reluctant to produce. The first act ends in general confusion - even the two drunks, no longer dead, are able to join in.

The stage is filled with prams, and the husband celebrates his amazing fertility, giving birth to numerous progeny (40,000 in a day). Feeding them is a problem, and a journalist is suspicious, but one of the children is already a best-selling author. The husband is also issued with ration cards by a fortune-teller who is Thérèse/Tirésias in disguise. When this lady is attacked by the gendarme, she kills him, and the couple seem to get together again, exhorting the French people to make love, not war.

The Cast

Bearded Gentleman
 a gentleman of Zanzibar (Le monsieur barbu)
 of the Theatre
Elegant Lady
 a woman of Zanzibar (La dame elegante)
First Baby
 a thin drunk
Newspaper Vendor
 (Marchande des journaux)
 a fat drunk
Second Baby
Third Baby
 a woman of Zanzibar (La grosse dame)

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha