Williams, "Lewis/Gounod's Bleeding Nonne: An Introduction and Translation of the Scribe/Delavigne Libretto"
Opera and Romanticism
Lewis/Gounod's Bleeding Nonne: An Introduction and Translation of the Scribe/Delavigne Libretto
Anne Williams, University of Georgia
Charles Gounod's Opera La Nonne sanglante based on M.G. Lewis's The Monk, had eleven performances in 1854 and has never been revived. This first English translation of the libretto is accompanied by an introduction providing the context of these performances and speculating about the practical and aesthetic reasons for the opera's failure. This essay appears in _Opera and Romanticism_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.
In 1706 the English critic John Dennis published an essay, "Upon the Opera's after the Italian Manner, Which Are About to be Establish'd on the English Stage: With Some Reflections on the Damage They May Bring to the Public" (Hooker 382-93). Dennis argued that the Italian operas' privileging of sound over sense was a slippery slope leading to cultural decline. He believed that opera threatened the implicitly masculine tradition of British drama, and that music was "effeminate" and hence threatening to cultural order, especially to the hierarchies of social class and gender. In fact, he concluded, "Nothing is so Gothick as an Opera" (391-92). Dennis was using "Gothick" in its sense of "barbarous." Certainly by its very nature opera subverts the rational precepts that ordinarily organize our conscious sense of reality. Opera invites us into a world where everyone sings rather than speaking, and (in eighteenth-century opera seria) repeatedly tells us tales of gods and heroes derived from Classical mythology and Italian Renaissance romances. From Dennis's perspective, the London invasion of this Italian art form was equivalent to the Goths at the gates of Rome.
The "Gothic" style of literature emerging in English less than a century later seemed equally deleterious to those wishing to maintain standards. Very little has been written about a possible link between opera and Horace Walpole's extravagant and peculiar Castle of Otranto, but the index to the Yale Walpole Correspondence includes almost six hundred references to opera. Furthermore from their creators' perspectives, both opera and the literary Gothic were designed or defended as genres intended to repair a perceived cultural loss. In 1590's Florence, a group of intellectuals who called themselves "The Camerata" sought to restore that unity of words and music once exemplified, they believed, by the performance practices of ancient Greek tragedy. In the second preface to The Castle of Otranto, Walpole asserted that "the great resources of fancy have been dammed up by a strict adherence to common life," a dam that presumably might be breeched by "Gothic Story" (7). And as Herbert Lindenberger has observed, opera and the Gothic are the two modes of art that have maintained what he calls "the high style" throughout the last two centuries (167). If opera is inherently "Gothick," then the writing we call "Gothic" is also distinctly "operatic": not only "extravagant," but "flagrantly artificial," "flamboyant," "passionate," "irrational," and "exotic."
I have argued elsewhere that Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill and the novel it inspired are indebted to the aesthetics of eighteenth-century Italian opera seria (Williams 104-118). I would further argue that by means of Otranto "the operatic" migrated into English literature, influencing works we now call "Romantic." But as the literary Gothic influenced Romanticism and opera itself became "Romantic" at the dawn of the nineteenth century, the relationship between them became increasingly complicated. Many librettos were based on literary sources that had at least some Gothic elements. But the degree of such influence depends on how broadly one defines "Gothic." If we think of "Gothic" as primarily "medieval," then Wagner's appropriation of history, legend, and folklore in The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Tristan und Isolde might qualify as "Gothic operas." Sometimes influence works in the other direction; operas can become more "Gothic" for operatic, not literary, reasons. Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) is arguably the only Gothic opera firmly in the canon; it has a haunted fountain, a tragic family conflict, and a heroine driven to murder and madness. Ironically, however, Lucia's most "Gothic" episode, the heroine's mad scene, does not occur in Scott's novel. The librettist Cammarano gave Lucia a mad scene because by the early nineteenth century, it had already become conventional in Italian opera as a show-piece for the soprano. Ironically, when Scott's inarticulate Lucy becomes "Lucia," she is most memorable in her inarticulate madness. There are also a handful of surviving works drawn from unquestionably Gothic texts, such as Heinrich Marschner's Der Vampyr (1828) based on Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819).
But Italian bel canto and late eighteenth-century Gothic fiction have one important quality in common; each transposes "operatic" extremes of artificiality and emotional intensity into the world of bourgeois family romance. The passions and situations are extreme, but they are played out within the structure and constraints of the patriarchal family. The plots concern anxieties about the rightful heir, the proper inheritance, and the compulsion to enlarge family fortunes through advantageous marriages, no matter how the parties directly involved might feel. The most explicitly "Gothic" opera composed in the nineteenth century was, however, a failure. Gounod and Scribe/Delavigne's La Nonne sanglante was based on the "Bleeding Nun" episode in M.G. Lewis's The Monk (1796). It closed after eleven performances in 1854 and has never been revived. As we shall see, the production was fraught with practical problems. I also want to consider, however, whether this failure is also rooted in its fundamentally Gothic source. Was the flagrantly Gothic text fundamentally unsuited to the (unconscious) needs of a mid-nineteenth-century libretto?
M.G. Lewis's episode of the Bleeding Nun serves as a counterpoint to his master narrative involving the seduction and betrayal of the virtuous monk Ambrosio. It concerns a woman who also betrays her religious vows and murders the lover for whom she has broken them. Her guilt is signified by her blood-stained habit. In this tale, Don Raymond makes a terrible mistake. A rationalist who does not believe in ghosts, he devises a scheme whereby he may elope with his beloved Agnes, whose cruel and greedy aunt Rodolpha has forbidden their marriage. According to local superstition, every five years on May 5 at one hour after midnight, the specter of "The Bleeding Nun" descends from the tower and leaves the castle, carrying a dagger and a lamp. That night the servants leave the gates of the castle open to facilitate her passage. Raymond suggests that Agnes disguise herself as the Nun so that the two of them can elope.
In the dead of night on May 5, Raymond watches as the nun appears. He thinks to himself that her disguise seems remarkably authentic. They get into his carriage and drive away, exchanging vows of eternal fidelity:
In my veins while blood shall roll,
Thou art mine!
I am thine!
Thine my body! thine my soul! (Lewis 156).
Suddenly a storm comes up and the carriage is wrecked. When Raymond regains consciousness, his "bride" has vanished. To his horror, he realizes that he has accidently exchanged vows with the ghost herself. She visits him every midnight, to the considerable detriment of his health and happiness. Eventually, the Wandering Jew intervenes. He is able to speak with her and learns that the Nun was Raymond's distant relation, Beatrice de las Cisternas, who had lived a hundred years ago. She wants a proper grave for her unburied bones, and Raymond, being a member of the family, is the person to bury them. Thus he frees himself from the haunting apparition. Meanwhile the unfortunate Agnes is left behind and forced to take the veil. Like Beatrice, however, she too breaks her vows, meeting Raymond secretly and becoming pregnant. When this sin is discovered, she is imprisoned in a vault of her convent by the cruel and vindictive abbess. Agnes gives birth to an infant, who soon dies. She goes mad, but is eventually rescued. She recovers her sanity and marries Raymond.
Lewis's novel was translated into French a year after it was published in England, and translated again in the 1840's. Curiously, a popular play called La Nonne sanglante by Anicet Bourgeois and Jacques Maillan also enjoyed considerable success in France during the 1830's. The play shares virtually nothing with Lewis's episode except its evocative title. It would, however, inspire Cammarano's Maria de Rudenz, composed by Donizetti and premiered at La Fenice in 1838. The Gounod libretto, written by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne is, however, directly based on Lewis's novel.
Scribe and Delavigne changed Lewis's narrative substantially. They moved the action from eighteenth-century Germany to eleventh-century Bohemia, and the deus ex machina is no longer the supernatural Wandering Jew but a historical figure, Peter the Hermit. The opera opens on a scene of civil war. Baron Luddorf and Count Moldaw are fighting each other. Castle Moldaw is in flames, and Peter the Hermit exhorts the warring parties to leave aside their strife to unite in a crusade against the infidels. When the two families agree to a truce, Peter demands that it be affirmed by the marriage of Agnès, daughter of Baron Moldaw, to Count Luddorf's older son. He does not know that she is already in love with the younger son Rodolphe, and when he discovers the young man's feelings, he unsympathetically advises him that "One can be strong in suffering if he suffers for his country" (Act 1, scene 2). Thus the couple plan to elope, with consequences like those in Lewis's novel.
Having sworn his unfortunate vow during the misdirected elopement, Rodolphe, like Lewis's Raymond, is visited every midnight by the Nun, who reminds him that he has sworn eternal devotion to her. She tells him that twenty years previously she had been in love, but her lover had gone to war. Told that he had been killed in battle, she takes the veil in despair, only to learn that her beloved is not only still alive, but intending to marry someone else. She reminds him of their love and his vows to her. In order to spare himself "these complaints" (her words), he murders her.
The Bleeding Nun tells Rodolphe that the death of her murderer is the price of his freedom. He promises to avenge her. Meanwhile, Rodolphe is told that he may marry Agnes because his older brother Theodore has been killed in battle. At the ceremony, however, the Nun appears (visible to him alone) and identifies his own father as the murderer. Horrified, Rodolphe realizes that now he again cannot marry his beloved. The families are furious at this apparent betrayal and intend to kill him. At the Nun's tomb (in a site sauvage near Peter's hermitage), Luddorf overhears his son's conversation with Agnès, learning that he knows his guilty secret. Seized by remorse, he impulsively decides take his son's place, mortally wounded by the soldiers pursuing Rodolphe. Dying, he begs forgiveness at the Nun's tomb. Her ghost appears, forgiving him and declaring that God will pardon them and reunite them in death. The two ascend to heaven, accompanied by a chorus praising divine mercy:O clémence ineffable!Oh ineffable mercy!Daigne les accueillir. . .May you welcome them. . .La vertu du coupableThe grace of the guiltyEst dans le repentir.Is in repentance.(Act V, scene 4)
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Gounod himself had virtually nothing to say about this early effort in his Memoirs d'un artiste. Kerry Murphy, editor of Charles Gounod: La Nonne sanglante. Dossier de presse parisienne, writes that in financial terms the opera was doing well. Several critics wrote approvingly of the theatrical spectacle offered by La Nonne, and commented with equal favor about Gounod's music. None of the contemporary reviewers seem to have suspected that the opera was about to close forever. But several different practical problems may have damaged the opera. Only one member of the cast was particularly distinguished, at least important enough to have an entry in The New Grove: that is the tenor Louis Guéymard, who created the role of Rodolphe. From the singer's perspective the opera was also unsatisfying. The role of Rodolphe is long and taxing; Peter the Hermit virtually disappears after Act 1. The soubrette Agnès has no aria, while Urbain the page gets two. Furthermore the Opéra management was changed in the midst of the of the performances. Steven Hubner writes that the new manager may have cancelled La Nonne "in order to demonstrate a radical change of course at the beginning of his tenure" (41-42).
The most comprehensive discussion of La Nonne in English is Andrew Gann's essay, "Théophile Gautier, Charles Gounod and the Massacre of La Nonne sanglante." He also speculates that there may be another element in the mix of unfortunate circumstances: prima donna politics. In the months leading up to the premiere, Gautier had been consistently praising in the popular press the woman cast to sing Agnès the Nun. Her name was Palmyre Wertheimber, a young soprano who had recently begun to have some success on the opera stage, having won some prizes and created a role at the Opéra Comique. She is reported to have had a Callas-like ability to act that equaled her voice. Gautier wrote:
La nonne sanglante de M. Gounod, fournira bientôt à Mlle. Weirteimber l'occasion de se montrer dans un rôle créé pour elle et avec sa propre originalité
[M. Gounod's La nonne sanglante will soon furnish Mlle. Wertheimber an opportunity to appear in a role created for her and with its own originality.] (Gann, 58)
Later he remarked:
La première représentation de La Nonne sanglante de M. Charles Gounod, aura lieu très prochainement; Nous regrettons bien sincèrement que le rôle confié à Mlle Wertheimber ne soit pas à la hauteur du talent si correct et si distingué de cette jeune artiste.
[The first performance of M. Charles Gounod's La Nonne sanglante will take place soon. We sincerely regret that the role assigned to Mlle. Wertheimber will not be worthy of this young artist's disciplined and distinguished talent.] (Gann 52)
According to Gann, Gautier's interest in Mlle. Wertheimber may have been more than merely musical. In any event her debut at the Opéra was not to be a fortunate one. For it appears that there was another avatar of Callas already there. Her name was Sophie Cruvelli, who despite her Italian name was in fact a German who sang the French repertoire. She had been offered the role of the Nun in January of 1854 and turned it down. She left Paris until after La Nonne closed. She returned and resumed singing leading roles at the Opéra. Agnès the Bleeding Nun marked the virtual end of Palmyre Wertheimber's Paris career. She did not return until many years later, when her voice was already in decline.
* * *
Scribe and Delavigne probably chose Lewis's story as the basis for a Grand Opera because it seemed to offer promising material for this genre so dominant in mid-century France. This type evolved during the 1830's and 1840's. The most successful examples, with all of which Scribe was involved, include Meyerbeer's Robert le diable (1831) Les Huguenots (1836), and Halévy's La Juive (1835). Audiences expected five acts, at least one ballet, and numerous theatrical spectacles. Productions gave ample opportunities to show off the advanced technical capacities of the Paris Opéra stage. The plots of Grand Opera, rather than evoking the Classical myths and Italian romances favored by Baroque librettists, were usually set in the distant but historical past, frequently the middle ages, and sometimes incorporated the supernatural. Thus Gothic fictions and librettos for Grand Opera sometimes treated the same kind of material. Furthermore, like the Gothic, Grand Opera had a political inflection.
This operatic genre played a complex role in French public life in the middle of the nineteenth century. Until the Revolution, opera in France had been a spectacle closely associated with the royal court, a means of displaying the monarch's wealth and power. But the institution of a new republic after Napoleon's fall made the public function of opera more ambiguous. As Jane Fulcher shows in her book, The Nation's Image: French grand opera as politics and politicized art, the development of Grand Opera effected a compromise between the power of public spectacles and the dangers of displaying events too overtly political. Since early Gothic fiction also quite frequently had a political sub-text, the theme of patriotic nationalism that Scribe and Delavigne superimposed on Lewis's Gothic horror story is certainly not unexpected and not necessarily inappropriate to the Gothic itself. (As James Watt suggests, late eighteenth-century Gothics that emphasized a supposed history rather than the fantastic horror story also had a political purpose: "the loyalist Gothic romance" implicitly extols "traditional" British virtues and values, those of the conservative establishment.) (Watt 42-69).
Just as Gothic fiction tended toward sensational episodes designed to harry the reader's sensibilities, Grand Opera relished the spectacular scene. In writing La Nonne, Scribe and Delavigne found ready excuses for new Gothic spectacles in their libretto. Act 2, scene 6 must have been sensationally effective. It begins with an encounter between Rodolfe and the Bleeding Nun, in which she reminds him of his vow, "Toujours à moi!" She takes him by the hand. ("How cold your hand is," he exclaims, unconsciously foreshadowing another and more familiar Rudolpho). Then, to quote the stage directions: "Lightening flashes, the thunder rolls, and one hears the "mugissements" of hell. "Mugissements" may describe the sounds made by bulls, the wind, horns, sirens. (I chose "Infernal howlings.") The Nun drags Rodolphe off, stage right. Then the stage directions continue:
The stage is covered with clouds. Infernal music is heard. Then the scene changes, presenting the ruins of a Gothic castle, a great hall, in which the doors and Gothic windows are half destroyed. In the middle of the stage is a vast table of stone, and stone seats that are are covered with ivy and wild plants. The moonlight reveals, at the back of the stage, a hermitage on the top of a rocky cliff.
Rodolphe and his page Urbain enter. The latter, seeing the hermitage, decides to seek Peter the Hermit, leaving Rodolphe alone. He muses that here in this ruined castle his ancestor, also named Rodolphe, had once lived. Then another transformation occurs:
The moon disappears. The doors and windows in the ruin regain their form and their elegance. The ruined stone table changes into a vast one covered with elaborate dishes and surrounded by many chairs. The torches around the table are suddenly illuminated, as are the candelabras which decorate the room; the darkness turns to light and the gilded objects and arms displayed on the walls glitter in the brightness; but this change is made in complete silence.
Rodolphe exclaims that here is the place that he had known in childhood. And then,
Subterranean singing, both somber and mysterious, is heard. Richly dressed lords and ladies appear in the doorways, extremely pale, and hardly moving. They glide slowly forward.
They are, of course, dead—ghosts—who sing a chorus about returning to remember their beaux jours, their lost loves and their lost lives. Urbain enters with Peter the Hermit, who exorcizes the phantoms by raising his cross before them, telling them to go back to the nothingness (le néant) from whence they came. Rodolphe faints in Urbain's arms and the scene ends.
* * *
And yet, though reviewers praised the music and the spectacle, one theme runs through a number of commentaries. Several critics remark on the inadequacies of the libretto. For instance, La France musicale declared on October 22, 1854:
Le sujet, il faut bien le dire, ne présente nulle part les éléments organiques d'un drame musical bien constitué; la vie est nulle part.
[One must say that the subject does not anywhere offer the elements organic in a well-constructed musical drama; there is no life in it.] (Gann 56)
Théophile Gautier was also clearly inclined to blame it:
Le poème, combiné avec une maladresse et une négligence qui étonne chez un homme d'une habilité aussi proverbiale que M. Scribe, contenait cependant deux ou trois situations de nature à tenter un musicien, et dont M. Gounod a tiré le plus grand parti. . . .
[The poem, a combination of awkwardness and carelessness astonishing for someone of M. Scribe's proverbial cleverness, nevertheless contains two or three situations that might tempt a musician, and M. Gounod has used most of them.] (Gann 58)
And an anonymous parody of the overwrought Scribe/Delavigne style appeared in Le Mousquetaire on October 19:
Eh bein! repentez-vous, ô Delavigne, ô Scribe!
Ou bien craignez Dieu la vengeance terrible.
Et si vous faites des opéras
Ne les faites plus comme ça.
[Delavigne and Scribe, repent!, or else fear the wrath of God. If
you're going to make operas, don't make them like this.] (Gann 65 )
One could translate the critic's damning conclusion, "La vie est nulle part" as "There's nothing true to life here," or simply, "It's unrealistic." Certainly Scribe had had difficulties in placing this libretto with a composer. I would speculate that the librettists felt that transforming Lewis's family secret (a century or five generations old) into one both immediate and horribly personal would intensify the dramatic effect, would make Rodolphe's conflict more psychologically realistic. Scribe and Delavigne's changes in the story that might also at first glance make it seem more "Gothic" than Lewis's. By condensing the drama into the space of twenty years and making Rodolphe's own father the murderer, they intensified the Freudian family romance so fundamental to Gothic narrative. By calling Rodolphe's beloved and the Bleeding Nun by the same name, Agnès, they strengthened the two characters' identities as doubles. Indeed, the plot as it emerged from the hands of the librettists dramatizes a distorted version of the Oedipal crisis and the incest taboo. Luddorf kills the woman who should have been Rodolphe's mother and is trying to see to it that his son will not marry the woman he loves, who is her double and shares his "mother's" name. But these changes serve to confuse rather than to intensify the melodrama.
The libretto's principal failure of realism lies in Count Luddorf's necessary but completely unmotivated change of heart in the last scenes, when he suddenly decides to sacrifice himself for his son. The move toward psychological realism backed the librettists into a corner. Only a deus ex machina could rescue Rodolphe from the warring families' murderous pursuit and restore him to his beloved. Such a device was comfortably accommodated in many a Baroque opera, and would reappear in somewhat different form in Wagner. But in The Flying Dutchman, for example, from Senta's first appearance we know of her rather neurotic obsession with the Dutchman's legend, so that we are not entirely surprised when she flings herself into the ocean. In La Nonne, however, Scribe and Delavigne have Luddorf simply act on his sudden change of heart, which leads him to die in his son's place. Yet until this moment we have seen (or heard) not a glimmer of this character's inner self. Then the writers add a second psychological intervention—the Nonne's sudden abandonment of her desire for revenge. And these two conversions are rewarded by yet another mode of rescue: the two ascend to heaven accompanied by a chorus singing of God's mercy.
In Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera Gary Tomlinson argues that changing operatic conventions reflect changing cultural ideas about subjectivity and the relationship of the self to the invisible. Certainly by 1854 the cultural moment that gave birth to The Monk had passed. Lewis's novel reflects, sometimes quite directly, the turmoil of the French Revolution, as when, for instance, his mob's murder of the cruel Abbess echoes the death of the Princesse de Lamballe in 1792. The horrors of the Revolution were, however, significantly internal, within the French body politic. The Gothic fiction of the 1790s expresses most powerfully the revolt fomented from within by the unruly fears and desires of the individual unconscious. Early Gothic fiction was perhaps most effective in making such private, unconscious passions public, accessible to the reader. In revising Lewis's narrative for the operatic stage, however, Scribe and Delavigne tried to make the private public by mapping a patriotic tale onto a domain of family secrets and hidden conflicts. One could imagine, I think, a verismo version of Lewis's tale in which Luddorf is haunted from first to last by his guilty secret, or perhaps an expressionist opera, like Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle or Schoenberg's Ewartung, in which the borders between the hero's tormented psyche and his world are not distinct or entirely discernable. But Lewis's tale of the Bleeding Nun was not a historical romance that could be authentically rendered as a patriotic fable in five acts and a ballet.
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A Note on the Translation
I have tried to render Scribe and Delavigne's often melodramatic French into idiomatic English, not attempting to preserve the meter and rhyme nor to produce a text suitable for singing. Since modern English does not make a distinction between familiar and formal address, I have ignored this difference in French except in one instance. In translating the exchanges between Rodolphe and the Bleeding Nun, I used the archaic English forms of the familiar as appropriate to the uncanny conversation between ghost and mortal. (I have also wondered whether the mortal's inadvertently addressing the Nonne in the familiar may not have facilitated her power over him.) I gratefully acknowledge the advice and encouragement of my colleague Marlyse Baptista in making this translation. A native speaker of French, she was generous in helping me not only to avoid outright errors, but also to discern the endlessly fascinating nuances and subtleties of translating French into English. I also wish to thank my research assistant, Lance J. Wilder, who learned Pagemaker in order to give my libretto a professional appearance and who has been endlessly patient in making the numerous changes I requested.
Fulcher, Jane. The Nation's Image: French Grand Operas as Politics and Politicized Art. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987.
Gann, Andrew. "Théophile Gautier, Charles Gounod and the Massacre of La Nonne sanglante." Journal of Musicological Research (1993): 1-2.
Hooker, Edward Niles, ed. The Critical Works of John Dennis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1939.
Huebner, Steven. The Operas of Charles Gounod. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
Joly, Jacques. "'La Nonne sanglante' tra Donizetti, Berlioz, e Gounod." L'opera tra Venezi Parigi. Studi di Musica Veneta. Vol.14. Ed. Maria Teresa Muraro. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1998.
Lewis, Matthew Gregory. The Monk. Oxford World Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
Lindenberger, Herbert. Opera: The Extravagant Art. Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984.
Mitchell, Jerome. More Scott Operas. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996.
---. The Walter Scott Operas. Birmingham, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1976.
The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed. Stanley Sadie. New York: Macmillan, 1997.
Tomlinson, Gary. Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera. Princeton, N.J. and London: Princeton UP, 1999.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. Ed. W. S. Lewis. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1974.
Watt, James. Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre, and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.
Williams, Anne. Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago and London: Univ. Of Chicago Press, 1995.
---. "'Monstrous Pleasures': Horace Walpole, Opera, and the Conception of Gothic.” Gothic Studies (April 2000).
1 Consider, for instance the vast number of operas based on Sir Walter Scott's work. For a survey see Jerome Mitchell's two volumes, The Walter Scott Operas, and More Scott Operas. Sometimes librettists also omitted "Gothic" elements in their literary sources. Rossini's Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra (1815) was based on Sophia Lee's The Recess (1786). But it focuses on the historical romance rather than its family secrets and threats of incest.
2 Though marginal, this opera remains on the fringes of the repertoire. Two recordings of the complete work are currently available on CD.
3 Though La Nonne sanglante closed after eleven performances, it nevertheless leads a shadowy afterlife as a printed libretto, a manuscript score in the Bibliothèque de l'Opéra, and Bizet's reduction of the score for voice and piano. It has attracted some scholarly interest. In 1998 Bizet's score was reprinted by Music-Edition Lucie Galland (Heilbronn, Germany), and in 1999 a volume called Charles Gounod: La Nonne sanglante. Dossier de presse parisenne (1854) was published by the same company. The latter makes contemporary reviews readily available. I am aware of one recording of one aria from the opera, a 1994 CD (now out of print) called Mélodies de Gounod (Ligia Digital). French Amazon.com lists it but describes it as "unavailable." It contains one aria, "Le calme," which, I would guess, is Rodolfe's aria from Act 3 scene 4, beginning "Un air plus pur. . . ."
4 Lewis's use of the word "bleeding" is interesting, since the ghost merely wears a blood-stained habit. But he probably could not have called her "the bloody nun," given the taboo on that word in English. The hints of physicality and process suggested by the present participle may be a Kristevan example of "poetic language," in which this word "bleeding" implies the horrifying disruptiveness of "female" materiality. Certainly the nun, who has sworn to renounce sexuality and motherhood, does, in breaking her vows and murdering her lover, embody such a horror of the dangerous female.
5Maria has had at least seventy-five revivals, as recently as 1982. The Bleeding Nun of this story is not a phantom, but a woman, another unfaithful nun, who bleeds to death on stage, singing to her lover Corrado, "Now there awaits me a tomb of evil fame/ Without prayers . . . without tears . . . already I am falling, the icy hand of Death/ Falls heavy upon my breast!/ You deprived me of life . . . and heaven!" Corrado responds, "Ah forgive me!" She responds, "I forgive you, I love you still. . . ." And falls dead at his feet. A complete recording is available from Opera Rara (1998), and many individual arias have been recorded.
6 Gueymard made his debut in the title role of Robert le diable and also sang at the five-hundredth performance in 1867. He created Jonas in Le Prophète, Henri in Les Vêpres siciliennes (1855) and Adoniram in Gounod's La Reine de Saba (1862). He sang at Covent Garden as well as in Paris and with the French Opera Company in New Orleans (The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. II, 564.)
7 The printed libretto spells the name of the woman performing "La Nonne" as "Weirtemberger." All contemporary reviews, however, including Gautier's, who was acquainted with her, spell the name "Wertheimber."
8 For a definition of the genre, see M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet, "Grand Opera," New Grove Dictionary of Opera, vol.10, pp. 289-294.
9 Scribe and Delavigne offered the libretto to Berlioz, who composed a scene and then abandoned the project, and to Donizetti who was not interested in this work. According to Gustave Chaduil, writing in Le Siècle for November 21, 1854, the libretto was also offered to Auber, Meyerbeer, Félicien David, Halévy, and Verdi, seemingly to most opera composers of the day. (Murphy, Kerry ed. Charles Gounod: La Nonne sanglante. Dossier de presse parisienne (1854). Heilbron, Germany: Musik-Edition Lucie Galland, 1999.) See also Jacques Joly.
10 For a discussion of Gothic conventions as manifesting anxieties about the structure of the patriarchal family, see Anne Williams, Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic.