“The Bells of Corneville,” frequently called “The Chimes of Normandy,” is a comic opera in three acts, with text by Clairville and Gabet and music by Robert Planquette. It was first produced at the Folies Dramatiques, Paris, April 19, 1877.
Serpolette, the good-for-nothing. Germaine, the lost Marchioness. Gertrude, Jeanne, village maidens, belles of Corneville. Manette, Suzanne, Henri, the Marquis of Corneville. Jean Grenicheux, a fisherman. Gaspard, a miser. The bailiff. Registrar. Assessor. Notary. Villagers and attendants of the Marquis.
The time is the Seventeenth Century and the story opens in the forest near the Normandy village of Corneville. A tall post by the entrance of the adjacent fair bears the bill ” Corneville Market, Grand Hiring of Maid Servants, Coachmen and Domestics,” reminiscent of a similar scene in ” Martha.” This especial fair is to be notable from the fact that Henri, Marquis of Corneville, who, owing to the civil war, has been an exile since childhood, has returned to his ancestral home and will be in attendance. The primary action of the opera consists in some very energetic gossiping among the village women. Serpolette, known as the good-for-nothing, serves as subject for some of the scandal but arrives in time to turn the tables on the others. The young lady who early expresses the suspicion that she has royal blood in her veins has a lively tongue before which her detractors may well quail.
” What do you think of the grand wedding that is to come off soon?” inquires Serpolette airily, ” Little Germaine, hardly out of her pinafores and that precious booby of a Baillie, who is as old as Methuselah and looks like a scarecrow.”
Though not expressed very pleasantly, all this is true. Gaspard, the miser, wants to marry his niece, Germaine, to the principal magistrate of the district. This arrangement does not suit either the young lady or a young fisher-man named Jean Grenicheux, who claims to have saved her from drowning, and therefore, according to all precedent, should have her hand. Gaspard dismisses his case in a word. ” He was fishing. My niece fell off the rocks into the sea and he could not help catching something.”
To escape from the distasteful marriage, Germaine takes advantage of the privileges of the fair and becomes the servant of the Marquis, while Serpolette and the sighing Grenicheux follow her example.
The Marquis immediately begins on the work of improving the ancestral estate and decides to inaugurate the work of reconstruction by laying the ghost which haunts the castle. He discovers that the supposed supernatural visitations are due to Gaspard, who has concealed his treasures in the castle and who has undertaken to protect them from discovery in this wise. When the old man hears the chimes of the castle ringing for the first time since the flight of the old Marquis and knows that the nature of the appearances has been discovered, he becomes crazy and babbles about the bells.
A great fête is given to celebrate the return of the young Marquis and Serpolette comes as Marchioness, for she maintains that some papers found in the château verify her claims of noble origin. Gaspard recovers his reason in time to show that Germaine instead is the real heiress and a general reconciliation is effected. The opera closes with a love-scene between Henri and Germaine, while the famous bells this time, in the words of the chorus,
Ring, ring out! far and wide! For our lord, and for his bride!
Their message changes in import in the ears of the repentant old miser, who cries gladly,
Ah, the bells ring! I am glad, They are my friends, nor drive me mad!
Admired in the score are Serpolette’s song, ” I may be princess; ” Grenicheux’s barcarole, ” On Billow Rocking; ” Germaine’s solo with chorus, ” Legend of the Bells ; ” Henri’s waltz rondo, ” With joy my heart has often bounded ; ” the taking ” Cider song,” sung by Serpolette and a chorus, and the final number, “Ah, love, the minstrel thou.”