Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Performance

Would that I remember all that was said during that first performance I watched. There were verses and songs, musical interludes and flashes of light, moments of touching sweetness and ridiculous turns that delighted. For now all I can do is render the briefest outline, which is no more than the players would have been given, for they filled in the details with their own impromptu and mime.

La Sylphide

Setting: Eraste's Apartment

A Sylphide and a Gnomide enter at the same time. The first places a basket of flowers upon a table, the second a basket of truffles. They ask each other what they have come to do in this place, for each thinks the other a rival, but the Sylphide reveals her tender feelings for Eraste, and the Gnomide avows her passion for Arlequin. The Sylphide tells how when she was at the Tuilleries walking with two of her friends, she was enchanted by the good graces of Eraste. But she suspects that he has set his heart on one of her companions.


You do injury to your charms! As for myself I have lost my lover's favour and the sparkle of my charms no longer dazzle him; it was in a dark cave where we first met and where he thrilled me with his grace that would charm even the most insensible. But Eraste comes here with his valet, let us remove ourselves so we might listen to them.

Eraste sees the baskets as he enters; he asks Arlequin who sent them and Arlequin replies he knows not. Eraste uncovers the first to find it filled with flowers.


It would have been better had they been full of money, that would be a marvelous help in reconciling your miserable affairs.

Arlequin sees the second basket filled with truffles and the name of Arlequin beneath, and he is at a loss to know who sent this present hither. After having thought for a moment he adds,

These flowers are no doubt sent by Clarice, your future bride."


Speak not of Clarice.


Can you have forgotten that your fortune depends on this marriage? That it is all that stands between us and our creditors? That you are only rich in appearance? Your uncle is in truth at the mercy of a half dozen doctors, but as these gentlemen are never of the same opinion they cannot agree on a remedy. Without it the illness cannot worsen and your uncle may yet live to a ripe old age.

Eraste tells him that a violent passion has seized his soul and nothing can release it, for he has seen the most adorable person in the world at the Tuilleries; Arlequin counters all his arguments, while the Sylph who is present and invisible threatens him with a beating, as Arlequin believes it is his master who is addressing him, making for a very comic play. The Gnome, also invisible, gives Arlequin little slaps, that he thinks comes from his Master. Two creditor arrive, Eraste receives them with ill humour, and threatens to take them to the courts, but as they withdraw, the Sylphide and the Gnomide, still invisible, gives each a purse that contains their payment. One of them, having counted his money and finding four louis surplus, returns to Eraste, asking him to forgive his keenness.

Eraste is astonished and while he turns to Arlequin to ask the meaning of this, a Sargeant and Prosecutor arrive. The Prosecutor represents Oronte and has come to remind Eraste of his promise to marry his daughter Clarice; the Sargeant delivers a summons to Arlequin from the cabaret keeper of Pigstown. Eraste and Arlequin make excuses while the fiends of justice threaten them. The Gnomide gives the Sargeant a blow that lays him flat on the boards, and the Sylphide carries the Procurator into the air. The spectacle astonished Eraste but Arlequin is less surprised for he sees nothing out of the ordinary than a Procurator who steals into thin air and a Sargeant gone to the devil.

The Gnomide plays a few more tricks on Arlequin who is terrorised, and Eraste continues to be astonished at everything he sees. The Sylphide sighs invisibly and converses with Eraste, now realizing she is a spirit. The Sylph assures Eraste that she loves him.


You love me? Can the spirits love? They don't have a body.


Your question makes me keenly aware of your own. Yes, Monsieur, they can love and with much delicacy, for their love is separate from their base senses; for their flame is pure and subsists only of themselves, undiminished or augmented by disgust or desire.


I am surprised that knowing what goes on in my heart you confess your feelings toward me, for you must know it is filled with the most violent passion a lover can suffer.


I am one of the three ladies whom you saw in the Tuilleries, and one of them you loved.


What! Those charming ladies are Sylphs? Can it be possible?

The Sylphide begs him not do as the common man and doubt what he does not understand. Eraste begs her to show herself.


I yield and make myself victim to your obstinance. Go to the Tuilleries where you shall see me with my companions. Do not speak to me, but return here to learn your fate and mine.

Eraste obeys and exits. The Sylphide remains and says Eraste will find there only two Sylphides, her friends, and thereby she will learn his feelings without committing her own.

Arlequin returns to the apartment of his master, but not finding him there, he declares he will go and keep the Sargeant company. The Gnomide arises and calls Arlequin who shakes with fear, seeing no one with him; the Gnomide reassures him and confesses her affections, telling him she is a dweller of the earth, a Gnomide, who, taken by his charms has left her home to make him the happiest of all mortals. She tells him she possesses great treasures that she wants to share them with him, after which the Gnomide leaves him with the assurance that she will take a corporal form and offer herself to his eyes presently.


Find a pretty one and above all do not forget your treasures, because without them I shall have nothing to do with you.

Eraste returns from the Tuilleries in despair because he did not see there the object of his adoration. Convinced of his love, the Sylphide makes herself visible and appears before his eyes. Eraste is transported with joy, recognizes her and assures her of his affection. Arlequin thinks the Sylphide very pretty but believe the Gnomide to be lovelier still, and begs her to appear in her colors of lily and rose. The Gnomide makes herself appear.


What do I see? Why, it's a mole! Away with you, sweetheart, you can't hope to gain me in that shape.


How sad I must strangle such a pretty little man, for it is our custom to strangle those who do not return our love.

This threat causes Arlequin to yield and he asks for the treasures that she promised. A vase filled with immense wealth appears from out of the ground. Arlequin no longer resists and observes he is not the first beauty to be seduced by wealth.

SYLPHIDE (to Eraste)

I do not promise any treasure but only sweetness worth all the gifts of the Gnomide. Come, Eraste, I shall transport you to the palace where you shall rule over me.

The Gnomide sinks into the abyss with Arlequin. The stage changes and we see the palace of the Sylph that seems to float in the sky. It is filled with Sylphs and Sylphides, who dance a divertisment that ends with a vaudeville.