Action musicale in two acts (1898-1901), Op. 53
Texte de Vincent d'Indy, d'après Brant d'Henrik Ibsen
Création: Bruxelles, Théâtre de la Monnaie, 7 Janvier 1903
France Musique live broadcast
Montpellier, July 26, 2010
Synopsis & analysis, by Michel Fleury :
" Despite his goodness, the Stranger, who has settled in a fishing village, keeps out of the way of the inhabitants who fear him. A Christian hero fulfilling a divine mission of charity on earth, he must leave in order not to give in to human love shared with Vita, the fiancée of a dry, hard-hearted customs officer. During a tempest, the Stranger is the only one to go to the rescue of a sinking boat. Vita jumps into the dinghy to accompany him, and both perish in the fury of the waves.
This controversial libretto, sacrificing action to the symbol, has weighed heavily on the destiny of the work. Its religious resonance (is divine love compatible with human love?) is accentuated by the recourse to Gregorian themes. On the other hand, the richness and beauty of the music explain Debussy’s enthusiasm and admiration: clarified and totally transfigured, the Wagnerian heritage is resolved in a miraculous balance between vocal line and orchestra, harmonic colour and polyphony, realism and Impressionism, Germanic complexity and Mediterranean clarity. At a time of re-evaluating one of our finest musicians, the rediscovery of this great and beautiful work imposed itself. "
Despite the comments above, the score is rather uninteresting, especially if one knows and appreciates Puccini. The Germanic influence is also quite clear, but I reckon Edouard Lalo with Le roi d'Ys and Ernest Reyer with Sigurd have done a much better job of integrating it with the French knowledge of melodies and the Italian sense of passion.
Overall a forgettable score - but I could never have had this opinion if the Montpellier's festival hadn't had the great idea to exhume this work.