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date: 11 December 2019


  • Hugo Cole


Opera in one act by John Tavener to a libretto by Gerald McLarnon; London, Covent Garden, 1 October 1979.

The opera traces the spiritual growth of St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–97). The poet Rimbaud (tenor) guides Thérèse (soprano) through purgatory and hell, forcing her to question her childlike faith. She encounters the triple murderer Pranzini (low bass) and comes to accept that even he must be loved and cherished, Christ (tenor), who is later identified with Thérèse’s father, then leads her to the Flanders trenches and the concentration camps of the 20th century. These visions strengthen her flagging faith, and the opera ends with a serene song of ecstasy, in which Christ joins.

Thérèse calls for a heroine who, as Paul Griffiths (1979) has suggested, ‘can range from childish babbling to the depths of despair and then to elevated grandeur, one who can, in Tavener’s words, “sing a Berio score with the same ease as she could sing Salome” ’. The problem of portraying onstage the inward life of a character whose outward life is entirely uneventful was not solved at the first production. ...

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