Saturday, May 23, 2015

FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2015

"Sweet is every sound, Sweeter thy voice, but every
  sound is sweet; Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro'
  the lawn, The moans of doves in immemorial elms,
  And murmuring of innumerable bees."
AUTHOR: Alfred Lloyd Tennyson
"Though the sounds coming from human voices
   are best, all sounds of nature are music."

Hermann Scherchen, Conductor
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Overture first theme
Waltz theme

("The Fair Helen")
George Stuart: Helen of Troy
This operetta is a parody after the story,
inspired by Greek mythology, of the abduction
of Helen of Troy. As background to the story,
three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Venus
(Aphrodite) competing for the title of the most
beautiful deity appointed Paris, son of the
Trojan king, as arbitrator. He was
supposed to give a golden apple
Peter Paul Rubens: Judgement of Paris (detail)
to the most beautiful of them.
The Judgement of Paris Embroidery, Middle 17th Century
The apple was awarded to Venus and in
exchange she promised him the eternal love of
the most beautiful woman in the world, named
Helen, symbol of passion and love. Being that
she was already married to Menelaus,
the king of Sparta, that was a problem that had to be
overcome.  After many complications Paris manages
to carry her off (some say he kidnapped her)
creating the scandal which was what ignited the
Trojan War. Similarly when this operetta, with its
irreverent characterizations and suggestive lyrics,
was first performed in Paris in the 1860's, it caused
quite a stir too. Through innuendo this operetta was
making a scathing critique of the French Second
Empire society and its lack of morality and
rampant thirst for pleasure.
(L to R) Menelaus, Helen, and Paris
(L to R) Agamemnon, Calchas, Achilles, and Ajax

Jenny Carre: La Belle Helene, 1919

Queen of Sparta
Son of King Priam of Troy
King of Kings
King of Sparta
High Priest of Jupiter
King of Phthiotis
Son of Agamemnon
(Soprano or Tenor)
Ajax I
King of Salamis
Second Ajax
King of the Locrians
Calchas' Attendant
Helen's Attendant
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Princes, Guards, People,
Slaves, Helen's Servants,
Mourners of Adonis
Public Space in Sparta with Temple of Jupiter
The people are making offerings to
Jupiter but the sacrifices of the population
consist only of flowers, offerings which
Calchas, the high priest or grand augur
of Jupiter, finds inadequate compared
with days gone by.  Helena, the Queen of
Sparta, wife of Menelaus, daughter of Leda
and Jupiter, offer a sacrifice in the temple.
She discreetly asks Calchas if he has
heard anything about the young
shepherd who, as a reward for giving
Venus the prize for beauty in a contest
with two other goddesses, has been
offered the love of the most beautiful
woman in the world. Calchas, while
agreeing that she is obviously the
woman in question, has no
further details.
Helen laments the fact that her destiny
seems to be leading her yet again into
a difficult spot and goes into the temple.
In any case, she does not love her idiot,
old husband Menelaus.
Calchas prevents Orestes, son of
Agamemnon, and his girlfriends from
following her and is about to give short
shrift to a shepherd who asks his help,
when a message from Venus, brought
by a dove, commands him to procure
for Paris the love of Helen, as promised
to him by Venus. She makes it clear that
this shepherd is in fact Paris, son of
Priam, King of Troy.
Paris then tells the story of the apple and
the beauty contest on Mount Ida in detail.
He convinces Calchas to assist him in his
upcoming love affair with the Princess Helena.
Still in disguise as a shepherd to Helen, she
appears and is as struck by his handsomeness as
he is by her beauty.  She pulls him into a
conversation and even though they know each
other a short time they fall in love.  Their meeting
is interrupted by the arrival of the kings
who come together for a spiritual contest.
Led by Agamemnon, the kings of Greece:
the two Ajaxes, the hot-headed Achilles, and
King Menelaus (the King of Sparta and Helen's
husband) are present (along with the shepherd) for
the contest of intelligence. Surprising everyone it is
the shepherd who is triumphant in the competition
to find the sharpest mind. After the contest Paris'
true identity is revealed and Helena is besides herself
with delight.  Wanting to see more of Helen, Paris
expresses to Calchas his wish that Menelaus
was elsewhere so Calchas invents a decree
of Jupiter ordering Menelaus to Crete.
Helen's private apartment in the royal palace, Sparta
Helen is determined not to see Paris
and invokes Venus, asking why the
gods insist on trying out their experi-
ments on her family, remembering the
episode of her mother Leda and Jupiter
in the guise of a swan. She then agrees
to see Paris, but her attitude is so un-
compromising that he tells her she must
not after all be the most beautiful woman
in the world, since she is not offering the
love he has been promised.
Meanwhile the four kings Agamemmon,
Achilles, and the two Ajaxes appear with
Calchas and play the game of goose in
which Calchas, wins by cheating. He
admits to it and the kings become angry.
Helen prepares for sleep, trying to resist
her attraction to Paris, but she asks
Calchas for a dream in which she sees
Paris. Paris, who has decided to employ
trickery, appears. As she falls asleep, Paris
enters her bedroom disguised as a slave
and Helen greets him as a dream figure;
but their blissful dream interlude is
interrupted by the unexpected return of
Menelaus, seething with rage, calling in
the kings and proclaiming his discovery.
Helen reproves Menelaus for being so
indiscreet as not to give notice of his
return. During the resulting noise and
tumult Paris can escapes to Troy but
declares that he will return.
The beachat Nauplia, Sparta (a seaside resort) a week later
While Helen and Menelaus are quarrelling
and the kings have gathered to lament
the moral decline of Greece, Venus seems
to have put a revengeful curse upon
Greece of a plague of immorality; husbands
are leaving wives and wives leaving
husbands at an alarming rate. Calchas and
Agamemnon tell Menelaus that, as it is he
who has offended Venus, he is to blame and
it is his duty to clean up the problem.  Thus,
Menelaus invites the High Priest of Venus
from Cythera to help him make amends.

The priest arrives on a boat and announces
that only if Helen goes with him on a short
journey to the island of Cythera the goddess
Venus will forgive them. Even though
Menelaus accepts Helen is at first unwilling.
When, on an aside, the priest reveals his
identity to her as actually being Paris, she
decides to surrender to her destiny
and eventually accepts.

Not until they sail away does Paris reveal
his identity to Menelaus, telling him that
Helen is now his.  This deception causes
Menelaus and the Greek kings to
initiate the Trojan War.

And it is for this explanation it I waited eight days

Patriotic Trio: When Greece is a field of carnage*
A parody of the famous trio in "William Tell."
Mankind must render service

Ah ... but if there was another way to appease the goddess

The galley Kythera here is it! (Arrival of the High Priest)
Greece entire supplicant

And first of all, O vile multitude
It comes, this is it!

Marc Minkowski, Conductor
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Choir of the Musiciens du Louvre
Anna Moffo, Soprano
Axel von Ambesser, Director

Kresimir Batinic, Conductor
Dora Ruždjak Podolski, Director
La Bella Helene Quadrille
An Arrangement of the music from La Belle Helene
by Eduard Strauss
Eduard Strauss
Edward Strauss
La belle Hélène (French pronunciation:
[la bɛl elɛn], The Beautiful Helen), opéra
bouffe in three acts (1864), is an operetta
by Jacques Offenbach to an original French
libretto by Henri Meilhac

Henri Meilhac
and Ludovic Halévy.

Ludovic Halévy

Ludovic Halevy and Henri Meilhac
The operetta parodies the Classical Greek
literature story of Helen of Troy and is the
second (and equally famous) of Offenbach's
highly diverting satires on a well-known
legend. The score includes some of
Offenbach's best-loved melodies.
Taking place in ancient Greece
Maerten van Heemskerck: Panorama with the Abduction of Helen
Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World
the story concerns the abduction (or elopement)
The Abduction of Helen by Gavin Hamilton, 1784
of the most beautiful woman in
the world, Helen (queen of Sparta),
Howard David Johnson: Helen of Troy
by Paris, the Prince of Troy.
After being promised the love of
Helen by the Goddess Venus
The Birth of Venus Botticelli -Sandro.  Uffizi Florencia Italia
Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus
and then with the procurement
of help from Calchas
[Calchas ("brazen") for short, was a powerful
prophet], the High Priest of Jupiter, Paris outwits
Helen's much deceived husband Menelaus
Menelaus and Helen
(a miserly, vain old man)
Description: Menelaus Regains Helen,
Detail of an Attic Red-Figure Crater, ca. 450 BC–440 BC, 
Menelaus initially angry tries to kill Helen who tries to escape but her beauty 
makes him change his opinion and he drops his sword.
Location: Louvre, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities
and an assortment of royal Grecian heroess to
elope with Helen (she willingly goes with him);
an action which set off the Trojan Wars.
'The Trojan Horse' by Giovanni Batista Tiepolo.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: The Trojan Horse

The Victorian Lyric Opera Company
A Critical History of
Jacques Offenbach's
La Belle Hélène
By Roxanna Maisel
Jacques Offenbach's La Belle Hélène opened
in Paris in 1864 and was an instant hit. Loosely
based on the story of the ravishingly
beautiful Helen of Troy
Gaston Brussiere: Helen of Troy
from Homer's
epic poem The Iliad,
the work also satirizes the decline of the
Second Empire in France (1852-70, under the
rule of Emperor Napoleon III).
Disderi, Adolphe Eugene  French Emperor
Napoléon III and his Wife Eugenie, 1865
During this era, France underwent a period of
rapid industrialization and rising prosperity
Camille Pissarro: Avenue de L'Opera Boulevard
This building plan was created by Napoleon III
requiring all buildings be the same height
with the same basic facade design.
The concept of the Department Store is started in France.
in which Paris acquired a world-
wide reputation for gaiety.
The supper offered by Napoleon III in the hall of the Opera of Versailles, August 25, 1855
In La Belle Hélène,

Offenbach parodied the vulgarly decadent
society of the Parisian upper class.
James Tissot: Portrait du Marquis de Miramon, 1865
La Belle Hélène  is an Opera Bouffe,

Adolphe Martial Potémont:  Variety Theatre (Paris) 1877 
La Belle Hélène premiered here on December 17, 1864
starring Hortense Schneider and José Dupuis.
Variety Theatre Boulevard Montmartre
a comic operetta in the French tradition,
so it is shocking to look back and read
the controversy surrounding Offenbach's
opera in its early days.
Reactions to the work were mixed.
As an early New York Times
reviewer wrote on April 3, 1868,
"The critics have ...praised it to the skies
or condemned it to the bottomless pit."

The earliest French reviews feigned outrage.
"Masterpieces profaned!,"
lamented a January 9, 1865 review in
The Journal of Debates;
a December 26, 1864 article in
The  Universal Monitor
The Universal Monitor
"To attempt to ridicule Homer's
heroes is blasphemy!"

An 1868 New York Tribune reviewer wrote,
"the text is loaded with indecent innuendoes;
the action in several places is simply vile; and
the costumes of certain characters are more
lascivious than anything we have yet seen
in a respectable theater."
New York Tribune
Describing the opera as,
"intrinsically unfit for the stage,"
the Tribune reviewer concludes,
"we recommend to stay away."

In Vienna, Portions were banned:
"The censor found fault with the libretto as
'offending against morality and decency,'"
according to W.E. Yates' Theatre
in Vienna: A Critical History.
The April 3, 1868 Times
reviewer made some concessions:
"In a moral point of view there can be no
doubt that Helen was an improper person....
Society was in a loose condition....The whole
family was, to speak mildly, eccentric."

Despite the opera's indecencies, audiences
flooded the theaters to view the spectacle.
The New York Times' March 27, 1868
New York Times:
March 27, 1868
review kindly remarks,
"the house was filled with a fashionable
and appreciative audience."

It further memorialized that,
"The music of the opera ... has become
familiar to the public. It is light,
rhythmic and catching....Between the
music and the dialogue the audience
was kept in a constant
 state of laughter."

Thankfully, it is Offenbach and his
amusing  La Belle Hélène

that we remember today, not
the invective of the critics. Popular opinion has
prevailed in today's general perception of
La  Belle Hélène

as a successful work of humor
and considerable musical gifts.
Had Offenbach been around to witness
the extravagances of the 1920's,
he would have seen for himself the
renewed relevance of his work as a social
critique of the present-day.

Dante Rossetti: Helen of Troy
In Greek mythology, Helen (Greek: Ἑλένη,
Helénē), better known as Helen of Troy,
Helen of Troy
was the daughter of Zeus
and Leda
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio: Leda and the Swan, 1560
and the wife of
Menelaus, king of Sparta.
She was the sister of
Jean Cocteau:
Castor and Pollux Ceramic Plate, 1958
and Clytemnestra.
Philippe Chery: Clytemnestra,
Costume for Iphigenia in Aulis
from Volume II of Research on the
Costumes and Theatre of All Nations
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). The children of Leda and the Swan. Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra are shown emerging from one egg; Castor and Pollux emerge from the other egg.
Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra are shown emerging from one egg;
Castor and Pollux emerge from the other egg.
Leda's Children
Left-Gustave Moreau: Helen on the Walls of Troy, 1885
Right Up-Giovanni Battista Cipriani: Castor and Pollux, The Heavenly Twins, 1783
Right Down-Clytemnestra by Frederick Leighton 19th Century
Her abduction (or elopement
depending on which account is
believed) by Paris
Statue of Paris
in the 
British Museum
A fresco of Paris abducting Helen by force
painted on a wall inside a villa in Venice, Italy.
brought about the Trojan War.

Gustave Moreau:
Helen on the Ramparts of Troy
Famous Women Boccaccio:
Helen, Daughter of Zeus and Wife of Menelaus
Salvador Dali: Helen of Troy, 1977
Frederick Leighton: Helen of Troy
Edward Burne-Jones: Helen's Tears (Flower Book)
Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys: Helen of Troy
Frantisek Kupka: The Crowning of Helen, 1906
Franz Stuck (German 1863–1928), [Symbolism, Art Nouveau] The Beautiful Helena.
Franz Stuck:
The Beautiful Helena
A.K. Macdonald: Helen of Troy
Edward John Poynter: Helen
Walter Crane:
Often She Would Stand Upon the Walls of Troy
Helen of Troy
Antonio Canova: Helen of Troy
Valery Kharitonov: Menelaus and Helen
Angus Mcbride: Helen of Troy
Author Unknown: The Abduction of Helena, 1450
Baugin Lubin: Kidnapping of Helena, c. 1670
Richard Westall: The Reconciliation Of Paris And Helen
Evelyn de Morgan: Helen of Troy, 1898
Helen admiringly displays a lock of
her hair, as she gazes into a mirror.
Maria Corda:
The Private Life of Helen of Troy Costume Sketch
Maria Cristina Haize: La Belle Helene
Grasky: La Belle Helene
Whiteboard animation loosely
based upon Homer's Iliad