Opera: Helene – Camille Saint-Saens

“Hélène” or “Helen of Troy,” a lyric poem in one act with words and music by Camille Saint-Saens, was first produced in Monte Carlo in 1904.

CHARACTERS

Helen. Venus. Pallas. Paris.

Spartans, nymphs and cupids, Trojans.

The work is founded on the immortal story of Helen of Troy. The incidents subsequent upon her abduction by Paris are set forth in a series of seven scenes.

The first scene, which is remarkably brief, shows the exterior of the palace of King Menelaus, illuminated for a fête. From within is heard the chorus chanting the praises of King Menelaus and of Queen Helen.

In Scene II, Helen is seen exhausted and distrait. standing at the top of a cliff by the sea. It is daybreak. The Queen is trying to escape from the net which Paris has spread about her. She finds her greatest difficulty in the fact that she loves him and does not wish to be free. At last, she declares she will be worthy of her race and true to her ties and is about to cast herself into the sea when Venus appears above the waves and prevents her self-destruction. It is to the Goddess’ purpose that her victorious rival in the affection of Paris shall live, sin, and bear the consequences. In desperation Helen denies her love for Paris, but Venus reads her heart and says, ” The story of your loves shall the Muse of History engrave on some undying monument.” Warning Helen that she will soon lead the son of Priam to her retreat, she disappears with her nymphs.

Paris comes as Venus has said, and pays eloquent and impassioned suit, assuring Helen that stern Sparta is no home for such as she but that the land of the Trojans, with its radiant hills and valleys is a fitter setting for her transcendent loveliness. She protests that it is only Menelaus that she loves, but gradually is brought to confess that she, the daughter of Zeus, has lied, and that her heart belongs to him. Having thus yielded, she calls upon the gods to save her from herself. Pallas comes in thunder-bolts and shows her what the consequences of her surrender to Paris will be. The Goddess places in the sky a vision and bids the lovers look upon Troy in flames and Priam done to death. The amorous Paris swears that even should the sun burst its bonds and burn up the universe he still would be true to his love. Helen casts aside her last scruple, gladly relinquishing home, husband, and children for a ” love that is stronger than death or the gods.” They embark in a ship sailing for Troy and are borne away.