Massenet, Jules


Massenet, Jules

Cléopâtre (with French libretto)

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Jules Massenet – Cléopâtre. Drame passionnel in four acts and five scenes on a libretto by Louis Payen (1910-12)

(b. Montaud, Loire, 12 May 1842 – d. Paris, 13 August 1912)

Cléopâtre was Massenet’s last opera, and the last in the final flowering of six operas that the elderly and mortally ill composer wrote under the influence of the Muse of his old age, Lucy Arbell (1882-1947). A singer variously described as a mezzo-soprano and a contralto (or, more compactly, as a mezzo-contralto), she was born Georgette Wallace, the granddaughter of an English aristocrat and art collector who had inherited a fortune and settled in Paris. Massenet met Arbell in 1906 and was swept away by her voice and vivacious personality (the prurient reader will perhaps be disappointed to learn that his infatuation went no further). He accompanied her at the piano in a recital of his chansons in June 1906 and wrote in ecstatic tones to his friends about her vocal and histrionic qualities. More importantly, he included roles for her in all of his final six operas, beginning with Ariane (1906), where she drew great acclaim in the role of Perséphone, and Thérése (1907), a drama of the French revolution in which she not only took the title role but received the composer’s dedication. The series continued with Bacchus (1909), one of Massenet’s most humiliating failures; Don Quichotte (1910), where the hero, sung by none other than Fyodor Chaliapin, was an elderly philosophizing gentleman, perhaps not unlike a certain late nineteenth-century French opera composer, and Dulcinea a rich and bright village beauty, perhaps not unlike Arbell herself; Roma (1912), where Arbell excelled as Posthumia; and the posthumously produced Panurge (1913), where she sang the Rabelaisian hero’s wife Colombe. The role of the femme fatale Cléopâtre was designed with Lucy Arbell very much in mind (with the result that, unusually, the roles of the two lovers, Cleopatra and Marc-Anthony, are both given to low voices), and Arbell fully expected to create it at the première – with fateful consequences, as we shall see. …

Full preface / Ganzes Vorwort > HERE

Score Data


Opera Explorer






210 x 297 mm



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