Princesse jaune, La (‘The Yellow Princess’)
- Hugh Macdonald
(‘The Yellow Princess’)
Opéra comique in one act by Camille Saint-Saëns to a libretto by Louis Gallet ; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 12 June 1872.
The third of Saint-Saëns’ operas to be composed, La princesse jaune was the first to be performed and the first fruit of his friendship and collaboration with Louis Gallet. It was commissioned by Du Locle for the Opéra-Comique as compensation for not being able to mount Le timbre d’argent at that time, and was staged in a triple bill with Paladilhe’s Le passant and Bizet’s Djamileh; none of the three was well received. Critics were still regularly hostile to Saint-Saëns at that time, and his opera received only five performances. It was occasionally revived in his later years.
The subject was selected to satisfy a craze for Japan, although the opera is actually set in the Netherlands. Léna (soprano) is in love with her cousin, the studious Kornélis (tenor), who is entranced by everything Japanese, particularly his portrait of a Japanese girl he calls Ming. In a fantasy induced by a potion he is transported to Japan, but there realizes that he really loves the Dutch girl Léna after all. The music is brisk and light, with some pentatonic evocation of the orient....