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Jean Cras Composer

Polyphème, opera

Performances: 1
Tracks: 18
Musicology (work in progress):
  • Polyphème, opera
    Year: 1910-18
    • Act I: Introduction
    • Act I Tableau 1: Scene 1: Nymphes des bois et des rivieres (Un Sylvian, Une Nymphe, Choir)
    • Act I Tableau 1: Scene 2: Ah! c'est toi, mon petit (Polypheme, Lycas)
    • Act I Tableau 1: Interlude
    • Act I Tableau 2: Scene 1: Elle dort …(Polypheme, Galatee)
    • Act II: Introduction
    • Act II Tableau 3: Scene 1: Il est loin maintenant (Galatee)
    • Act II Tableau 3: Scene 1: J'ai du garder la ferne, ou le travail est rude (Galatee, Acis)
    • Act II Tableau 3: Scene 1: Tiens, mords a meme (Galatee, Acis, Lycas)
    • Act III: Prelude
    • Act III Tableau 4: Oh! qui m'enlevera mon eternel ennui! (Polypheme)
    • Act III Tableau 4: Scene 2: Lycas! (Polypheme, Lycas)
    • Act IV Tableau 5: Scene 1: Mes cheveux sont defaits…(Acis, Galatee)
    • Act IV Tableau 5: Scene 2: Nymphes des bois, nymphes des eaux (Acis, Galatee, Nymph, Choir)
    • Act IV Tableau 5: Scene 3: Les feux du jour sont apaises (Choir)
    • Act IV Tableau 5: Scene 4: Que fais-tu? (Acis, Galatee, Polypheme)
    • Act IV Tableau 5: Scene 5: Il est parti…(Galatee)
    • Act IV Tableau 5: Scene 6: Lycas!…Lycas!…(Polypheme, Lycas)
Jean Cras came across Albert Samain's dramatic poem "Polyphème" in the summer of 1910 and immediately resolved to make an opera of it—"a will superior to mine chose the work to which I was thenceforward to dedicate myself with the fervor of a submissive disciple." Cras took Samain's text almost unchanged, dividing the poet's two acts into four and cutting a few lines from Polyphemus' final harangue. Composition was complete by 1914, though the outbreak of World War I in August of that year delayed its orchestration until 1916-1918. Cras pursued, like his friend Albert Roussel, a naval career, and was commander of the torpedo boat Commandant Bory, which saw action in the Adriatic. Unlike Roussel, who resigned his commission at 25 to follow music, Cras remained in the service, attaining the rank of Rear Admiral. Awarded the City of Paris Prize in 1921, Polyphème enjoyed a successful première at the Opéra Comique on December 28, 1922, staged by Albert Carré and conducted by Albert Wolff, with Vanni Marcoux taking the lead. Revived for the 1924-1925 season, it was forgotten until a 2003 recording brought it again to public attention. Motivated by intense ethical concerns, the appeal of Samain's play for Cras was its valorization of Polyphemus as the trivial love interest of Galatea and Acis—an attractive airhead courted by a fop—is overshadowed by the tragedy of the ugly man. In a moment of murderous rage, Polyphemus, about to crush Acis and Galatea, experiences a moment of recognition and blinds himself, instead, before wading into the ocean. Samain's chiseled verses provided, as well, scaffolding for a musical vision of antiquity (most telling in the Act IV Divertissement—Galatea's dream—a balletic vision of Pan surrounded by nymphs), the inevitable elaborate love duet, and a sea-haunted mise-en-scène. While Cras is at pains to give the poet his due—and Polyphème is often compared with Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande in this regard—his music has much more in common with such French post-Wagnerian operas as d'Indy's L'Étranger (another sea-obsessed score), Fauré's Promethée and Pénélope, or Dukas' Ariane et Barbe-Bleu in being through-composed (vocal lines shaped with mélodie-like suppleness rising into arioso), sparing use of leading motifs, and symphonic eloquence. Of some interest, the composition of Polyphème overlapped that of Roussel's similarly pivotal Padmâvatî (premiered at the Paris Opéra on June 1, 1923), whose acerbic Modernism and foreshadowing of neo-classicism throw into relief Polyphème's throwback post-Romanticism, whose fin-de-siècle aesthetic baggage rendered its real grandeurs unfashionable

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