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John-Michael

Pharaoh's Daughter libretto

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Roland John Wiley includes a translation of the libretto of "La Fille du Pharaon" in his book "A Century of Russian Ballet: Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, 1810-1910" which also includes some eyewitness accounts of the premiere and subsequent revivals with Marie S. Petipa, the choreographer's first wife.

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There is a seriously long synopsis in the booklet of the Bolshoi DVD which would take so long to write down. Well, I have changed my mind, I think I will write it down for you. Be grateful, lol.

ACT ONE Scene I

A young Englishman, Lord Wilson, is travelling through Egypt with his servant, John Bull. At the foot of the pyramid they meet a caravan of Arab merchants who kindly invite them into their tent. Suddenly, a powerful storm gets up and the travellers and merchants hurry to take shelter in the nearest pyramid.

Scene II

The caretaker of the pyramid requests that his uninvited guests remain quiet and points to a tomb at the back of the pyramid which has Aspicia, the daughter of one of Egypt's most powerful Pharaohs in it. Settling down in a corner of the pyramid, the Arab merchants light up their opium pipes. Lord Wilson also asks for a chibouk. "Watch it! Opium can be dangerous," one of the merchants says, pointing to a smoker who appears to be in the throes of a disturbing dream. "No matter," Lord Wilson replies. "I would like to experience such sensations too." He falls asleep.

Fantastic dreams now take form: the walls of the sepulchre disappear and the mummies come to life and leave their sarcophagi. After them comes Aspicia, their mistress, and daughter of the mighty Pharaoh. Being over the Englishman, she lays her hand on his heart. At that very minute, a magical metamorphisis takes places: Lord Wilson and his servant become Egyptians. The former is called Taor, the latter Passiphonte. Enchanted by Aspicia's beauty, Taor tries to follow her but the princess disappears in a limp haze.

Scene III

Taor and his servant hurry off to the forest in search of Aspicia. They find her by miracle, sleeping on a moss-covered rock. Nearby are her attendants who are worn out by the intense heat. Aspicia wakes up and recognizes the handsome youth. Oblivious to everthing around them, they gaze at each other.

In the distance, hunting horns can be heard. Aspicia asks Taor to hide. Ramze, her slave who has noticed the stranger, tries to persuade her mistress to leave. The hunters appear and worn Aspicia that there is a lion in the forest.

Aspicia goes off with the hunters in persuit of the lion. The lion is surrounded but suddenly he breaks out of the ring of hunters and makes for the princess. Toar, who from his hiding place is following the scene in horror, seizes a bow that was left behind by one of the hunters and neatly lodges an arrow into the lion's heart. Aspicia is saved!

The pharoah arrives and sees his daughter in the arms of a stranger and gives orders that Taor should be arrested. Aspicia tells him that Taor saved her life and should be rewarded. The pharaoh's rage turns to gratitude. He orders that the youth be freed and invites him to his palace.

ACT TWO

Taor visits Aspicia in her sumptuous apartments and declares to her his love. The Pharaoh enters, surrounded by a brilliant suite of dignitaries and palace officials. They are followed by the King of Nubia who has come to ask for the hand of the Pharaoh's daughter. The Egyptian potenate agrees to give his daughter in marriage to the King of Nubia and the two men sign a treaty of friendship.

Hearing this, Taor is out of his mind with despair. Aspicia tries to calm him down and promises she will never belong to anyone except him. The Pharaoh commands that the festivities to mark his daughter's wedding begin. Full of sadness, Taor reminds Aspicia that soon she is to marry the King of Nubia. "What can we do?" Aspicia asks. "Run away," Taor replies.

At the height of the festivities, Taor is handed the key to a secret door which the couple make their escape from the palace.

The Pharaoh is furious when he hears of his daughter's disappearance and orders that the runaway couple be apprehended. Noticing the secret door, the King of Nubia sets off, together with his bodyguards, in pursuit of Taor and Aspicia.

ACT THREE Scene I

Taor and Aspicia are hiding in a fisherman's hut on the banks of the Nile. At nightfall, the fishermen get ready to go fishing and invite their guests to come too. Aspicia decides not to go. Taor advises her to rest and goes off with the fishermen.

No sooner has he departed than the King of Nubia, accompanied by his bodyguards, enters the hut. Aspicia is only too well aware that her marriage to the King will seperate her forever from the man she loves. Therefore, to avoid being caught, she runs to the window and throws herself into the Nile.

Scene II

The mighty God of the Nile gives Aspicia a warm welcome and recognises her to be the daughter of the Pharaoh but she only has one request - she wants to see Taor again. Aspicia's wish is granted and she is united with Taor on dry land.

Scene III

The Pharaoh's palace. The ruler of Egypt is in despair. He demands that Taor be brought into his presence and threatens to kill him if her does not tell him where Aspicia is hiding. But Taor has no idea where she is.

So the Pharaoh commands that the youth be condemmed to death. But at this very moment, sound of joyful march can be heard in the distance: the fishermen have found Aspicia. She throws herself into her father's arms and tells him of her adventures. After hearing of his threats, the Pharaoh orders the King to leave. But the Pharaoh will not forgive Taor for abducting his daughter. Aspicia tells her father that she will kill herself if he doesn't free Taor. Touched by Aspicia's selflessness and the depth of her feeling for Taor, he forgives Taor and gives the couple his blessing. At the height of the festivities, the stage is envelloped in clouds.

Scene IV

Lord Wilson wakes up and looks around him in astonishment. He sees the tomb of Aspicia and smiles as he remembers his wonderful dream.

This synopsis comes from the Bolshoi Theatre.

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The libretto was based on a novella called "Le Roman de la Momie" by Theophile Gautier (HIM again!). It was, and still may be available in a 19th century collection of Gautier Egyptian stories translated into English by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn titled it "Cleopatra's Night Out"!

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Thank you for the libretto but I just got the dvd last week as a birthday gift. I'm going to try to track down the original and Gautier's story. I'm dying to know if those dudes in the hunt scene forming those strange patterns with their spears are in the original and how Lacotte's differs. Watching my dvd's immensely entertaining (it's such a precious, sweet ballet) but I get the feeling a lot of details have been excised that prevent it from rising above merely being adorable to an actual dramatic piece of theater.

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beaumont's COMPLETE BOOK OF BALLETS includes the first cast and beaumont's typical breakdown/libretto from the 1862 premiere; it covers nearly 10 pp. lacotte's version is his own. (i haven't compared beaumont's explication with lacotte, but i'm certain they differ in many ways.) if i'm remembering it correctly, lacotte told anna kisselgoff, who asked a question about gautier's 'roman' at a press gathering as the bolshoi was about to give his ballet its u.s. premiere, that he hadn't really gone back to gautier's source work.

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Thank you, Minkus Pugni, for taking the time to post the English version of the libretto. It will be a very useful reference for any of us who are able to see the Bolshoi perform this work.

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