In this tragic opera the heroine, Olga, fights to save her violent and nihilist partner from himself.
Drame lyrique in four acts by Camille Erlanger
Libretto by Arthur Bernède & Paul de Choudens
Sung in French with English surtitles
Rouen, France, 1911
A group of anarchists gather in St Petersburg to lament the state of the nation. Their group leader has died in prison, and they decide that the charismatic Serge Markariev, should take his place. Olga, (the daughter of the general who gave the order to kill their leader), comes to join their group, but the rebels are suspicious and resolve to kill her. They are stopped by the arrival of Serge Markariev. When the police arrive to arrest the rebels, Olga bravely intervenes, claiming the group are her friends. Once Olga and Markariev are alone together it becomes clear that they are actually lovers. Olga advocates that she abandons her father and Markariev renounce his political activism. She knows that death will be his fate if he does not. They swear to be each other’s for eternity.
The opera moves to a wedding party on the Mediterranean coast, Olga has become an object in a political union between the Russian and the French, married off by her father to Mr De Ruys, a famous surgeon. As the guests disperse and Olga reveals that she has agreed to the marriage in the belief that Serge has been killed. However, Markariev then arrives, and he tells her that her father has tricked her into believing him dead.
The two lovers run away together to Paris where they are reunited with the rebels who accuse Markariev of deserting the cause. Markariev demands that his loyalty must be tested and when the group learn that the Gregorian Grand Duke is passing through Paris, Markariev is chosen to assassinate him. When Olga begs him not to go and Markariev acquiesces, the rebels call the couple traitors and Markariev is shot. Olga and Kouragine take Serge to a hospital where, by coincidence, her husband, De Ruys is the surgeon who must operate to save Serge’s life. Olga begs him to save Markariev.
Markariev recovers and convinces Olga to travel back to Russia under false pretences. Markariev has committed martyrdom and is actually on a suicide mission to assassinate the Grand Duke. Markariev departs after falsely reassuring Olga that he will return. A bomb detonates in the distance and a red dawn lights up the sky, Olga realises what has happened, and she collapses, dying of a broken heart.
Background / The Opera
Even considering Wexford’s proud record of reviving neglected operas, L’Aube rouge (‘The Red Dawn’) promises to be quite a rediscovery. But then its composer, Camille Erlanger, is more neglected than most usually heard here. Not to be confused with the equally obscure Anglo-French composer Baron Frédéric d’Erlanger, Camille Erlanger (1863-1919) enjoyed much success in his heyday and wrote nine operas in all — one of them, the five-act music drama Le Fils de l’étoile, being composed for that high temple that was the Paris Opéra, where it enjoyed success before disappearing from the repertoire. His fame evidently spread far and wide, since the Avenue Erlanger in Quebec City is named after him, and he was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. But he is perhaps best remembered now (if at all) for Le Juif polonais, a more enduring success in its day.
Erlanger himself was Jewish, and served as choirmaster of the famous Tournelles Synagogue near the Place des Vosges in Paris. Born in Paris, he studied at the Conservatory there with Léo Delibes (of Lakmé fame). Like many French composers of his generation — and despite Delibes’s influence — he was in thrall to German music, though in his case less to Wagner than Weber. He is said to have always produced rewardingly singable lines that appealed to artists as well as audiences, but the 19th-century roots of his style meant that he went out of fashion quickly in the lively musical world of interwar France.
Premiered at Rouen just after Christmas 1911, L’Aube rouge seems to inhabit a similar world to that of Giordano’s Fedora, with the difference that instead of Nihilistic plots forming the backdrop, here there are Nihilists throwing bombs at Russian diplomats in Parisian streets and explosions. More conventionally for opera, it features a heroine who (inevitably) loses her mind at the end. But any opera that moves — apparently effortlessly — from Moscow (‘chez les Nihilistes’) to Nice, Paris, a clinic, and back to Moscow has surely got to be fun.
Explore the repertoire of Camille Erlanger
- Le Juif polonais
- Le Fils de l’étoile
Cantata Velléda – winner of the Prix de Rome