Opera in two acts.
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, after a fable by Jean de La Fontaine.
First performed at the Théâtre de Bade, Baden-Baden, on 6 August 1860.
A small cottage in the country, just outside Florence.
Mazet, the manservant of an impoverished young nobleman, Horace, starts the day by singing to his master’s precious pet dove. He is interrupted by the arrival of Maître Jean, the butler of the lovely (and certainly not impoverished) Countess Sylvie, who lives close by. Maître Jean announces that he has come with his mistress’s instruction to purchase the dove. Mazet is at first horrified, but he admits that the dove has outstanding abilities as a messenger, and that his master does need the money. He agrees to sound Horace out. Horace, however, will not hear of it. But Maître Jean discerns Horace’s affection for the Countess, and returns to enlighten her, suggesting that she might use this knowledge to negotiate for the purchase of the dove herself. Sylvie is unimpressed by this suggestion – but she reflects onw the opportunity that owning the dove will give her to get one up on her society rival, Amynte, who owns a splendid parrot. She turns up at the cottage and, alone, she reflects on the power of love, which she is convinced will cause Horace to sell the bird to her. Horace arrives home, and overjoyed to find her in his house, promptly invites her to stay for dinner. Sylvie agrees.
Maître Jean has agreed to help with the cooking, and launches into an aria about the grand art of cuisine. Mazet has been sent to buy food, but returns with nothing because the shopkeepers refuse to extend Horace’s already stretched credit. He and Maître Jean hold a lengthy discussion about the best methods of cooking a whole range of dishes which are clearly impossible, and then Mazet and Horace decide together that there is no choice but to kill the dove.
Sylvie now comes round a bit, and realises that Horace loves her. They sit down together for dinner, and Sylvie is about to ask Horace what they are going to have, when Mazet arrives with a roast bird. But … he explains that it is actually Amynte’s parrot, which had escaped earlier in the day. Sylvie meltingly agrees that she is very glad that it is not the dove, because the dove will now forever remind her of Horace’s love for her.
Other Opera Story articles can be found on
Charles Gounod’s life and his operas
The background to the writing of La Colombe
The stories and the backgrounds of Gounod’s other operas
The lives and librettos of Jules Barbier and Michel Carré
The life and writings of Jean de La Fontaine, and other operas based on his stories
Poultry in opera, including all kinds of recipes
and many other aspects of Gounod’s operas.
© Roger Witts 2010