A conversation piece for music in one act by Richard Strauss
Performed in German
The composer Flamand, the poet Olivier and the theatre impresario La Roche meet in the salon of the countess Madeleine. The Countess is a young lady who admires art and love to gather artists around her and provide them with inspiration to create new works. On her birthday, the arts are to challenge each other. In the adjoining music salon, a string sextet is already to be heard which Flamand has dedicated to the Countess whom he adores. Olivier too is in love with the Countess. Both are competing for the importance of their art and for the Countess’ favour. The theatre impresario La Roche, who has dozed off during the soothing music, awakes and becomes involved in the debate, in which he argues for the theatre being of prime importance in the ranking of the arts. La Roche has travelled from Paris in order to organize a theatrical performance as a birthday present for the Countess. It is time to prepare for the rehearsal, for which the famous actress Clairon is also expected from Paris. The Countess enters the salon still utterly enraptured by the music she has just heard. Her brother, the Count, is an ironic critic of the music. He is more inspired by the dramatic art and in particular by its exceptional representative Clairon. While he seeks only a fleeting adventure, the Countess does not know for whom she should decide – Olivier or Flamand. The theatre impresario announces the programme of events for the Countess’ birthday. Shortly afterwards, Clairon appears. Together with the Count, she recites the sonnet has just been completed from the play which Olivier has written for the Countess. The theatre impresario invites everyone to the rehearsal. Olivier and Flamand stay behind alone with the Countess. The poet repeats the sonnet from his play. This inspires Flamand to compose. Full of enthusiasm, the Countess realizes how only together words and music unfold their entire artistic magic. This makes her choice between Flamand and Olivier even more difficult. She asks the passionately imploring Flamand to wait until they meet in the library the next day, when she will impart her heart’s desire to him. The guests return from the auditorium. As alternative entertainment, La Roche presents a young dancer whose entrance produces a new debate on the value of the arts. La Roche laments the decline of the Italian Belcanto and as a consoling exception introduces two Italian singers. The Countess presses him to explain about the festival performance in her honour. It is supposed to commence with a noble allegory entitled «The birth of Pallas Athene”, followed in the second part by an heroic play entitled «The fall of Carthage”. His plan is ridiculed and a major dispute on the influence of theatrical art breaks out. La Roche defends himself by pleading for the theatre in an extensive speech. Impressed by his speech, the Countess proposes that the poet and the musician should create a new work for the theatre. The Count contributes provokingly by suggesting that the foregoing events should be taken as the plot. Olivier is ready to commence immediately with the scenario. All the guests depart for Paris. Only the prompter, Monsieur Taupe (the «Mole”), misses his connection and travels after the other guests alone. The Countess appears for supper and learns that her brother has accompanied Clairon to Paris. Reflectively, she lets the events of the day pass through her mind once more. The chamberlain reports to her Olivier has announced his visit on the following day in the library, at the same time as Flamand. Both await her decision on how the opera is to end. But is there an end which would not appear trivial?