“La Navarraise” termed by its composer “a lyric episode in one act,” with text by Jules Claretie and H. Cain, and music by Jules Émile Frederic Massenet, was produced in London in 1894.
Garrido, a general of the Royalist troops. Remigio, a farmer. Araquil, his son, sergeant in the Biscayan regiment. Ramon, a lieutenant in the same regiment. Bustamante, a sergeant in the same regiment. Anita, a girl of Navarre, betrothed to Araquil. Officers, soldiers, villagers, military chaplain and surgeon.
The opera opens in a public square in a village near Bilbao. It is an evening in springtime, soldiers begrimed with powder straggle past and a group of women pray in silence before a Madonna. The booming of cannon and the rattle of musketry fill the air and bring the terrified women to their feet. It develops that Garrido, general of the Royalist troops, has tried vainly to retake a Basque village from the Carlist leader, Zuccaraga. One of his officers, Ramon, is timidly approached by Anita, a girl of Navarre, who inquires breathlessly for news of her soldier sweetheart, Araquil. But he can tell her nothing. As she is praying to the leaden medallion of the Virgin, which hangs about her neck a battalion appears and Anita scans the ranks eagerly. It passes and Araquil is not of it. Finally he comes, having been delayed by military duty, and Anita casts herself into his arms and covers his face with kisses. Oblivious to everything but each other they are interrupted in their endearments by the approach of Remigio, Araquil’s father, who is delighted at the safe return of his son of whom he is very proud. But he has no gentle words for this girl of Navarre, for he is ambitious for his son and looks higher for a wife for him. Whoever weds Araquil must have a dowry equal to his own property. Anita loves too well to be angry, she only asks how much that dowry must be and is hopeless when he answers carelessly, ” Two thou-sand douros.” He might as well ask her to bring him the moon. Araquil entreats his father to be lenient but to no avail.
Garrido comes to raise Araquil to a lieutenancy and his father, prouder of him than ever, hurries him away from Anita. Night comes on and the girl still lingers in the square, dejected. Araquil’s father was right. She is only a stranger, an outcast, a beggar. What is there left for her but to go on alone and broken-hearted? Finally she over-hears Garrido talking with Ramon. Zuccaraga has been having fresh victories, all the general’s friends have fallen before him. He would give a fortune to any one who would take Zuccaraga. A fortune ! Pale and with staring eyes, she goes to Garrido and tells him that she will do the deed. Astonished, he aske her name but she answers that she has no name, that she is only a girl from Navarre, and runs away into the darkness. ” Mere empty threatening,” mutters the officer.
Araquil comes back, seeking his sweetheart. Yes, the soldiers have seen her. She was bound for Zuccaraga’s camp. They are full of insinuations. The Carlist leader loves pretty women, it seems. Araquil is wild and, as the day breaks, he rushes away to find out for himself. Shots are heard, for the Carlists have risen. Anita comes back to the Royalists, deathly pale, her arm wounded. She tells Garrido that she has fulfilled her part of the bargain and demands the money. Remorsefully he pays it, binding her to secrecy.
While Anita is gloating over the gold which will bring her such joy, Araquil, who has traced her to the Carlist camp and who believes in her guilt, is brought, wounded. He accuses her of unfaithfulness but she cares only that he is hurt. When he sees the gold, he tells her that she has sold herself. Just then the bells ring out for Zuccaraga’s death. The people say that he was killed last night by an assassin. The eyes of Araquil are fixed upon Anita’s hands and she fancies that he can see the blood upon them and hides them in terror. Then he understands and, pointing to the money, cries in an awful tone, ” The price of blood,” and falls back dead. Remigio drives her away from his son’s body and she is .about to curse the Madonna, who has forsaken her, when she hears the bells in the distance and fancies it is her wedding-day. Then she kisses the little leaden medallion and laughs joyfully, for La Navarraise is mad.
Upon the histrionic ability of the one cast in the role of Anita depends chiefly the success of this warlike drama, with its persistent din of battle, for it is more of an acting than a singing part.
Among the important passages in its vivid score may be mentioned the duet of Anita and Araquil upon their meeting, ” Ton souvenir m’a protégé ” (” I thought of thee, my darling only “) and Araquil’s song, when he comes back to look for Anita in the square, ” Que deviens-tu donc mon aimée ? ” (” Why comest thou not? “). Also effective are the strangely beautiful nocturne which accompanies the sleep of the soldiers who are stretched upon their blankets in the road; Anita’s song over the gold and her raving when she goes mad, and the song sung by the soldiers and Sergeant Bustamente to the music of his guitar, when just before ” lights out,” they gather around the soup-pot. The English translation of this sinister piece is effective : Bustamante. I’ve three houses in Madrid!
Chorus. Oh, you poor old soldier!
Bust. The gaol, and the place where the dead are hid!
Chorus. And the hospital, too, for the soldier!
Bust. But I’ve my sweetheart Isabelle!
Chorus. He has his sweetheart, you can tell! So, as for sorrow let it fly!
Sing away, boys, let the dead men lie!
Bust. The soldier’s love is but a flower, Chorus. Oh, you poor old soldier!
Bust. The bugle sounds the parting hour, Chorus. “Goodbye” says the poor old soldier.
Bust. But I’ve another sweetheart yet!
Chorus. He has another, don’t forget! So as for sorrow, let it fly!
Sing away, boys, let the dead men lie!