Opera Scotland

Pauvre Matelot The Poor Sailor; Le pauvre matelot


Darius Milhaud (born Aix-en-Provence, 4 September 1892; died Geneva, 22 June 1974)


Jean Cocteau



First Performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 16 December 1927.

First performance (revision): Geneva (Grand Théâtre), 15 November 1934: 

First Performance in UK: London (Fortune Theatre), 9 October 1950.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Athenaeum Theatre), 1979.



Milhaud's music drama is brief - barely half an hour, but extremely effective. The musical idiom is a combination of folk and jazz, tinged with ideas the composer picked up from the streets and bars of Marseille.



Wife (soprano)

Sailor (tenor)

Friend (baritone)

Sailor's father (bass)



The sailor has been away at sea for fifteen years. His wife has had no news of him and has lived in extreme poverty while awaiting his return, expecting him to have made their fortunes. She has refused all offers to take up with other men, even when the sailor's own father encourages her.

A man arrives. She does not recognise her husband. He pretends to be another sailor, a friend of the husband's. His idea is to test out his wife's conduct. He tells her that he is wealthy, but that her husband, a friend of his, is destitute. He asks for a room for the night, and as he retires his wife smashes his head with a hammer, thinking to use this man's wealth to pay off her husband's debts.

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