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Retour d’Ulysse, Le (Montagne / Hervé)

Date

1862.8.21

Description

Opéra bouffe in one act, premiered at the Théâtre des Délassements-Comique.

Text

Twenty years is a long time to be gone and Ulysse’s wife, Pénélope, is running out of patience. Albinus, Pénélope’s slave, is supposed to be guarding her virtue in Ulysse’s absence, but his task is becoming ever more difficult: Coqsigru, her suitor, is becoming more insistent in his advances. To sway Pénélope, the latter even goes so far as to forge a document proving that the man she is waiting for has died. Ulysse does make an appearance, however, and, disguised as the butler, oversees the first romantic meal enjoyed by his wife with Coqsigru. All the essential elements of light comedy are now in place and we have obviously moved quite a distance from Homer’s epic: a husband in disguise, a lover on the run, a wife giving in to temptation, a servant escaping through the window, and a case of mistaken identity. Two years before Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, Montagne and Hervé were already drawing on the great Greek classics to depict, with a distinct taste for the absurd, the social mores of their time. The contemporary press documented the amusement of the spectators, who were highly entertained by the performances of Couderc (Ulysse), Mercier (Albinus), Grivot (Coqsigru) and the very popular Mademoiselle Jullien: “well received first as a pretty woman, then also as a singer.” The distinction made between the comic actors and an engaging actress moreover appears to be heightened by the musical treatment: “comical, cheerful and amusing for the men’s roles, [Hervé’s composition] takes on a more serious air and character in the numbers sung by Pénélope” (Revue bibliographique, 31 August 1862). Although frequently programmed during 1862 and 1863, it seems that Le Retour d’Ulysse was not subsequently revived.