“Le Rève” or “The Dream,” a lyric drama in four acts and eight tableaux, with music by A. Bruneau and poem by Louis Gallet, after the romance of Émile Zola, was produced in Paris in 1891.
Angelique. Hubertine. The Bishop, Jean d’Autecceur. Felicien. Hubert. An invisible choir.
The curtain rises on a simple French interior, an embroidery shop, from whose windows are seen a blossoming garden and the Cathedral of St. Agnes. Angelique sits with her needlework abandoned in her lap, absorbed in the Golden Legend. In fact, so much has she mused upon the characters of this loved book, that they have assumed for her actual being. She numbers among her friends Saint Marceline, who was burned; Sainte Solange, who was scourged and Saint George, who bravely slew the fearful dragon.
While her foster-parents, Hubert and Hubertine, watch her revery with loving indulgence, the humble cottage has the honor of a visit from the Bishop. He seems interested in the delicate, deft-fingered girl. They tell him how, years before, they found her half-dead in the snow and adopted her. As he examines the ecclesiastical embroidery which she is making at his order and finds it excellent, he, relates the story of an ancestor who healed the plague-stricken people with the touch of his lips and the words, ” Si Dieu veut, je veux.” These words have been since that time the motto of this family. As Angelique listens she hears her invisible choir and the Bishop observes her ecstasy with amazement. When he has gone, they speak tenderly of the reverend man and Hubertine tells how once he was married, how his adored young wife died, and that there is a son who is in disfavor because he will not be a priest. ” He is as beautiful as an angel and as rich as a king,” she adds.
Angelique naively relates her own day-dream, which is that she shall marry a king and spend her life in good deeds. When the shocked Hubertine bids her silence her pride and remember that kings are not always available, she declares that she has had a vision of him. Even then her face lights up, for through the window she catches a glimpse of the beautiful youth of her dreams.
In the second scene, we are taken to the field, where all day long the people have been washing linen in the stream. Angelique who is scattering lavender in the snowy folds, gaily sends her foster-parents home and remains behind on pretext of finishing some task, but really in the hope that, in the lily-scented quiet, the voices may come to her. As the rays of the setting sun strike the window of the chapel, they disclose the figure of a man whom for a moment she fancies may be Saint George in person. He disclaims the distinction, assuring her that his name is Felicien and that he is only a worker in stained glass. She returns the compliment giving the simple facts about herself. Her name is Angelique. She is an embroiderer; the shop and the garden of her parents are yonder. ” But why do you look at me so? ” she falters. ” It is because I love you,” he answers. And that is the whole story of the courtship.
Her parents are not inclined to accept him as unquestioningly as Angelique. They want some explanation of a workman who wears diamonds and whose hands are so white. He has promised that they shall know all on the morrow, the fête of Corpus Christi. And on the morrow, when they watch the procession, they see Felicien in the suite of the Bishop. The resemblance tells the story. ” The son of Monseigneur! ” Angelique cries gladly but her foster-parents gaze at her with profound sorrow.
In the next scene, the Bishop is resolved not to give his consent to his son’s marriage, as he hopes to save him from the human ties in which he himself has found little but sorrow. The humble,. heartfelt pleading of Huber: and Hubertine for their darling do not in the least move his iron will. No more do the entreaties of Felicien, nor those of poor drooping Angelique who comes to kiss his hands and fall at his feet in supplication, and who swoons at the sound of his relentless ” never.”
Felicien seeks Angelique, although he has been told that her love is cured, and finds her asleep in the little cottage but so white and frail that his heart is torn with compassion. She consents to fly with him but the symphony of the invisible friends detains her, bidding her submit to the harshness of fate and to remember that renunciation is good. In the enthusiasm of sacrifice,, she refuses to listen to her lover. He goes to his father to tell him that Angelique is dying and to pray him to heal the broken-hearted girl as his ancestor did the plague-stricken. Still the father is obdurate. But kneeling at his prie-dieu he hears the heavenly symphony which so often has sounded in Angelique’s ears, and, crying that his dead wife has spoken, he takes the holy oil and sets forth for Hubert’s cottage. Angelique’s spirit seems almost to have departed but murmuring the words of his ancestor ” Thy will be done,” he kisses the girl’s forehead. As the chants of the priests sound about her, she revives and declares that she will live to see her dream accomplished.
On the morrow, Angelique and Felicien go to the cathedral to be married, but on the threshold the frail creature faints, almost as if with too much joy and dies on her lover’s breast.
Bruneau has been called the standard-bearer of the young French School and his treatment of Zola’s romance in his opera “Le Rève ” was sufficiently original to cause a stir, and to bring him prominently before the music world. He uses representative themes and displays a marked gift for characterization. The Bishop’s recountal in the first act, ” Pendant une peste cruelle ” (” During a plague most cruel “) ; his monologue in the fourth tableau of Act II, ” Seigneur, J’ai dit : Jamais!” (” O God, I swore the vow “) and Angelique’s appeal to the Bishop are especially noteworthy pages in the score.