Madame Sans-Gêne (‘Madame Carefree’)
- Julian Budden
Opera in three acts by Umberto Giordano to a libretto by Renato Simoni based on the comedy of the same title by Victorien Sardou and Emile Moreau; New York, Metropolitan Opera, 25 January 1915.
Set in Paris in August 1792, Act 1 opens outside the laundry of Caterina Hubscher (soprano), known as Madame Sans-Gêne, where all is confusion. Soldiers of the Revolution are attacking the Tuileries. Caterina arrives, having run the gauntlet of an amorous patrol, all of whom exacted a kiss (‘Mentre andavo via leggera’). Fouché (baritone), a supporter of the insurgents, takes shelter at the laundry while the fighting lasts. Caterina dispatches one of her girls with a bundle of clothes to an impoverished officer, telling her not to demand payment. His name is Napoleon Bonaparte. She then sends for Sergeant Lefèbvre (tenor) – her lover, she tells Fouché, ever since he rescued her from the attentions of a would-be seducer at Vauxhall (‘Lo conobbi son due mesi’). News comes that the Tuileries has fallen and Fouché leaves to join the victorious troops. An enemy soldier knocks at the door begging for shelter; he is the Austrian Count of Neipperg (tenor), gravely wounded in the fight. Caterina conceals him in an adjoining room. Lefèbvre arrives and joyfully recounts his exploits (‘Alle giubbe scarlatte diam la caccia’). Caterina is unable to prevent him from entering the room where Neipperg is hidden. He reappears to announce that the fugitive is dead. But this is merely a ruse to discover whether the man is Caterina’s lover. Satisfied with her reaction, he commends the wounded man to her care....