Music by Gustave Charpentier
Libretto by the composer or by Saint-Pol-Roux
First performed: 1900
A worker’s tenement. An April evening.
Julien a poet, serenades Louise, the daughter of a working-class family, from the tenement opposite their flat. She teases him and fails to notice that her mother has overheard their conversation. The mother abruptly interrupts them and mocks the young man’s intentions. Louise’s father returns home with a letter from Julien asking for his permission to marry Louise. While they eat supper, he tries in vain to persuade his wife to accept Julien as a son-in-law. She replies angrily and slaps Louise when she protests. The father soothes Louise and tells her to forget Julien: she is too inexperienced to appreciate what they want for her. But when she reads him a paragraph in the newspaper about the gaiety of the new season in Paris, she bursts into tears.
Streets at the foot of the hill of Montmartre. An April dawn
It is early in the morning outside the building where Louise works. Miscellaneous people pass along the street. A striking figure in evening dress, who calls himself the Night Prowler, explains that his mission is to bring pleasure to those who have lost the joy of living. An old man curses him for seducing his daughter. Julien shows his friends where Louise works. They joke about his idealisation of her until he warns them that it is time for her to appear. Other seamstresses arrive before Louise, who is accompanied by her mother. Julien intercepts her but fails to persuade her to abandon her family and enjoy her youth in freedom and happiness.
A Dressmaker’s Workshop. The same morning
Louise sits silent while her companions laugh and gossip at their work. They are at first delighted when Julien’s friends return to sing outside their window but soon grow bored when Julien’s song becomes more passionate. Louise pretends that she is not feeling well and hurries out. The girls are surprised and delighted to watch her run off with the young man.
‘Towards the distant city…’
A little house and garden in Montmartre
Louise sings her happiness since she gave herself to Julien. They join in praise of love and of Paris, the city which has enabled them to live freely together. A crowd led by the Night Prowler – ‘Pleasure of Paris’ – gather to celebrate the crowning of the muse of Montmartre. They have selected Louise, and she accepts gratefully. But her mother’s appearance disperses the merrymakers. She tells Julien that she has only come to beg that Louise should return to save her father’s life – although he ahs accepted her departure, he is dangerously ill. A rag-picker passes, singing of a father who lost his daughter to the city. Louise sadly agrees to go home for a few days while her father recovers.
The tenement. A few weeks later
Louise’s father has been broken by illness and sorrow. The mother tries to cheer him by pointing to the new view from their window since the tenement, in which Julien used to live, ahs been pulled down. He dwells upon his daughter’s ingratitude. Louise quarrels with her mother in the kitchen and comes to her father to say goodnight. He speaks to her as though she were still a child, and infuriates her by asking her to forget Julien and stay with them. As she grows more and more defiant, her father flings the door open and tells her to go. At first frightened, Louise suddenly makes for the stairs. Her father realises too late what he ahs done. He can only shake his fist at the skyline of Paris in fury and despair for robbing him of his child.
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