Saint François d’Assise [Scènes franciscains (‘Franciscan Scenes’)](‘St Francis of Assisi’)
- Paul Griffiths
[Scènes franciscains (‘Franciscan Scenes’)](‘St Francis of Assisi’)
Opera in three acts by olivier Messiaen Olivier Messiaen .
The work is in eight self-contained scenes, each further subdivided into small units, often placed in repetitive patterns. The solo vocal writing suggests plainchant (though the modes are Messiaen’s own), and the sense of a liturgy is enhanced by a monumental chorus of 150 voices. The orchestra is on a similar scale (120 players), and includes large woodwind and tuned-percussion sections as well as three ondes martenot, all providing resources for the vivid amplified birdsongs that underline and punctuate the score. Each scene is the exposition of a single moment in the saint’s life, omitting the conflicts of his early years to centre on his faith and attainment of grace: there is no dramatic continuity either within the scenes or from one to another; rather they are single, static and separate, like a cycle of stained-glass windows.
There are three scenes in Act 1. In the first, ‘La croix’, Francis (baritone) is travelling with one of his monks, Brother Leo (baritone), and teaching him the meaning of ‘perfect joy’, which in a long monologue he says is to be found in the acceptance of suffering while thinking of the crucified Christ. Then in ‘Les laudes’ Francis and his community are discovered at prayer, and the saint sings verses from his ...