Philémon et Baucis (‘Philemon and Baucis’)
- Steven Huebner
(‘Philemon and Baucis’)
Opéra in three acts by Charles-François Gounod to a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré ; after Jean de La Fontaine’s fable; Paris, Théâtre Lyrique, 18 February 1860.
The gods Jupiter (baritone) and Vulcain [Vulcan] (bass) are warmly received by the aging couple Philemon (tenor) and Baucis (soprano) after having been turned away by other Phrygians. Jupiter punishes the decadent neighbours by engulfing their temple in fire and rewards Philemon and Baucis by restoring youth to them. But much to Philemon’s chagrin, the god falls in love with the rejuvenated Baucis. She contrives to make Jupiter lose interest in her by requesting that he restore old age to the couple. Vocal highlights include Vulcan’s Act 1 couplets ‘Au bruit des lourds marteaux’, Baucis’s Act 2 romance ‘Ah! si je redevenais belle!’ and the Act 3 air ‘O riante nature’, the last a late rehearsal addition made to highlight the soprano, Caroline Carvalho. At the suggestion of Léon Carvalho, director of the Théâtre Lyrique, Gounod expanded his original two-act frame into three by adding a middle act that depicts the orgiastic celebrations of the townspeople in Jupiter’s temple. The addition of a tableau unconnected to the main story and containing no dramatic development accentuated the libretto’s overall lack of momentum. There is little in Gounod’s score that is dramatic: most of the numbers are purely decorative accretions to the spoken dialogue. For the ...