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Déjanire is an opera (tragédie lyrique) in 4 acts composed by Camille Saint-Saëns to a libretto in French by Louis Gallet and Camille Saint-Saëns. The last of Saint-Saëns' operas, it premiered on 14 March 1911 at the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo. One of the opera's central characters, Hercule (Hercules), had been the subject of two earlier symphonic poems by Saint-Saëns – Le Rouet d'Omphale (1872) and La Jeunesse d'Hercule (1877). The story is based on The Trachiniae by Sophocles (also the source for Handel's opera Hercules).

Background and performance history

Déjanire began its life in 1898 as a play with accompanying symphonic music, choruses and a ballet. Fernand Castelbon de Beauxhostes, one of the owners of a newly constructed arena in Béziersmarker (used primarily for staging bullfights), wanted to make Béziers a centre for the performance of open-air opera as well. He persuaded Saint-Saëns to write the score for a performance of Louis Gallet's epic verse-drama Déjanire to inaugurate the project. At first Saint-Saëns was reluctant to have his music performed in what he called an "abominable temple of blood". However, Castelbon managed to convince him by inviting him to visit the arena where his arrival was greeted by hidden musicians playing in his honour. In August 1898 Déjanire opened in Béziers with two performances before 12,000 spectators each time. The reception was ecstatic with Saint-Saëns conducting a huge musical ensemble consisting of a choir of hundreds, massed military bands and an orchestra that included 18 harps and an array of 25 trumpets. Although fatally ill and suffering from deafness, Louis Gallet managed to attend the second performance. In his memoirs Saint-Saëns recalled:

"In spite of everything, including his ill health which made the trip very painful, he wanted to see his work once more.
He heard nothing, however – neither the artists, the choruses, nor even the applause of the several thousand spectators who encored it enthusiastically.
A little later he passed on, leaving in his friends' hearts and at the work-tables of his collaborators a void which it is impossible to fill."

Twelve years later, Saint-Saëns transformed Gallet's play into a fully-fledged opera to fulfill a commission from the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. Gabriel Fauré was in the audience for its world premiere on 14 March 1911, conducted by Léon Jehin and directed by Raoul Gunsbourg. The work then premiered at the Paris Operamarker on 22 November 1911. (The Paris premiere caused a minor scandal when Mlle. Delsaux danced the ballet segment with bare legs and clad only in "flimsy draperies" instead of the traditional bell-shaped skirt.) The first performance of Déjanire in the United States came on 9 December 1915 when it was presented by the Chicago Opera Association with Carmen Melis and Lucien Muratore in the leading roles. Although very rarely performed today, Déjanire was revived at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier in a 1985 performance conducted by Serge Baudo.


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Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 14 March 1911
(Conductor: Léon Jehin)
Déjanire (Deianira) soprano Félia Litvinne
Iole soprano Yvonne Dubel
Phénice contralto Germaine Bailac
Hercule (Hercules) tenor Lucien Muratore
Philoctète (Philoctetes) baritone Henri Dangès
The people of Oechalia and Trachis (chorus)


Setting: Trachis in ancient Greece

Hercule has killed King Eurytus, and sacked the city of Oechalia with the intention of taking the king's beautiful daughter, Iole as his bride. The task of informing Iole of the impending marriage falls to Philoctète, who is actually her lover. Iole confesses her love for Philoctète to Hercule and must now marry him to save Philoctète's life. Meanwhile, Phénice tries to convince Hercule's wife, Déjanire, to leave him forever. Instead, the desperate Déjanire tries in vain to win back her husband. When this fails, she decides to help Iole by giving her a tunic impregnated with the blood of Nessus. Before he died, Nessus had told Déjanire that his blood had magic powers to make the unfaithful return. What Déjanire does not know is that the blood is actually tainted with a terrible poison. Iole gives the tunic to Hercule on their wedding day. When he puts on the fatal gift, he is overcome by an excruciating burning pain. In agony he throws himself into the flames of the wedding pyre and dying ascends to Mount Olympusmarker.


  • The tenor aria, "Viens, O toi dont le clair visage", from Déjanire can be heard on Antonio Paoli – Il Mito Dell'opera (Bongiovanni #1117).

Notes and references

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