Saint François d'Assise - Synopsis

Paul Gay, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Aktionisten Saint François d'Assise: Paul Gay, Christine Schäfer Saint François d’Assise: Ensemble

Saint François d'Assise

Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen

 

The location is Italy in the 13th century. The theme of each individual scene is taken from Fioretti (Little Flowers) and Reflectios on the Stigmata, both written by anonymous Franciscan monks in the 14th century.

Seven persons appear: the Angel, St. Francis, the Leper, Brother Elia and three other brothers, Leone, Masseo and Bernardo, who were especially loved by Francis. The growing grace in Francis' soul is revealed in the course of the opera.

FIRST ACT

FIRST SCENE – THE CROSS

St. Francis tells Brother Leone that one must bear with patience all contradictions and all suffering to obtain the love of Christ, which is the source of ”complete bliss“.

SECOND SCENE – THE LAUD

After the brothers recite the morning mass, St. Francis remains behind and prays to God for a meeting with a leper and the ability to love him.

THIRD SCENE – ST. FRANCIS KISSES THE LEPER

A home for lepers. A horribly repulsive Leper covered with blood and boils complains of his suffering. St. Francis arrives, sits down next to the Leper, and speaks to him softly. An Angel appears in front of the window and calls, ”Leper, your heart accuses you, but God is greater than your heart“. Thrown into a state of confusion by the Angel's voice and the goodness of St. Francis, the Leper's conscience is stricken because of his vehemence. St. Francis kisses the Leper.

A miracle occurs: The Leper is healed! He dances with joy. Even more important is the constant fl owering of grace in the soul of St. Francis and the rejoicing at his overcoming his feeling of repugnance.

SECOND ACT

FORTH SCENE – THE WANDERING ANGEL

A forest path on Monte La Verna. The Angel appears on the path. His magnificent robe with the five-colored wings is visible to the public only. The other characters take him for a tramp. The Angel's gentle knocking on the door of the monastery makes a great deal of noise, which symbolizes the entrance of grace. Brother Masseo opens the door. The Angel poses Brother Elia, the vicar of the order, a question about providence. Brother Elia refuses to answer and makes him leave.

The Angel knocks again and poses another question about providence, this time to Brother Bernardo, who answers with great wisdom. After the Angel exits, Brother Bernardo and Brother Masseo look at each other and say: ”That might have been an angel…“

FIFTH SCENE – THE MUSIC-MAKING-ANGEL

The Angel appears to Francis and plays a fiddle so as to give him a taste of heavenly bliss. This solo is of such beauty that St. Francis loses consciousness.

SIXTH SCENE – THE SERMON TO THE BIRDS

We are in Assisi. A tall, evergreen oak is visible. It is springtime, and birds are singing. Francis, accompanied by Brother Masseo, preaches to the birds and blesses them solemnly. The birds answer in great concert in which one can hear both the birds of Umbria – in particular the capinera, a blackcap – and birds from faraway lands and islands, especially the Isle of Pines near New Caledonia.

THIRD ACT

SEVENTH SCENE – THE STIGMATA

Night, near La Verna. A cave under an overhanging rock. Francis is alone. A large cross appears. The voice of Christ, symbolized by the chorus, can be heard almost constantly. Five rays of light shine from the cross and gradually fall onto Francis' hands, feet and right side, accompanied at the same time by the noise made by the Angel's knocking. These five wounds, which resemble the five wounds of Christ, are the divine confirmation of Francis' saintliness.

EIGHTH SCENE – DEATH AND THE NEW LIFE

Francis lays dying on the ground; all the brothers kneel around him. He takes leave of everything he once loved and sings the final verse of his Song of the Sun, the verse about ”our brother, the death of the body“. The brothers recite Psalm 141. The Angel and the Leper appear to Francis to comfort him. Francis speaks his last words: ”Lord! Music and poetry have led me to you… dazzle me forever with your abundance of truth…“ He dies. The bells toll. Everything disappears. Wh ile the chorus sings of the resurrection, a ray of light falls on the spot where Francis' body had lain a few moments before. The ray's intensity increases to the point that it can no longer be looked at. The curtain falls.

Olivier Messiaen