(Creation in the Opera, on October 7, 1878)
Situation : A Melitène,
capitale de l'Arménie, au IIIe
Act 1. Pauline's room.
The servants of Pauline prepare the room for the night
(choir and scene: " Déja dans l'azur des cieux ").
She confesses to her confidante Stratonice the confusion of
a dream where her husband, the Armenian aristocrat
Polyeucte, was baptised and at once struck to death by
Jupiter. Polyeucte appears soon, shaken by a Christians' new
sacrifice which will be offered the next day to the heathen
gods (duet: " Quelle morne douleur"). Pauline is horrified
to learn that her husband sympathizes with their cause.
Polyeucte also announces to her, that the day of the
sacrifice was moved to coincide with the visit of Severe, an
imperial general, who comes to celebrate a recent victory.
Pauline does not need a presentation. She tells her husband
that Severe used to be in love with her and that, without
the intervention of her father, she would be today his wife.
A square with a triumphal arch. The imperial group and
Félix's following, governor of Armenia and father of
Pauline, arrive at the sound of a triumphal march and a
choir. Severe recognizes quickly Félix and Pauline;
they present him Polyeucte as the husband of Pauline. Still
in love with Pauline, Severe is startled to learn that she
is married (quartet with choir: " Je frémis "). The
curtain falls on the resumption of the parade and choir.
Acte II. A garden with a small temple to
One hearsin the distance the sounds of the celebration.
However, Severe cannot share in the festivities, because he
suffers to know Pauline married to the other one (story and
cavatina: " O dieux, o puissances célestes "). He
moves aside when Pauline enters with her suite. She deposits
an offering in Vesta's temple. Severe reveals his presence
and reminds her of the times when they were together (duet:
" Pauline!...Dieux! "). Pauline asks him to forget the past,
because she now has duties to her husband; she asks him not
to try to see her again. Pauline returns to the temple and
Severe hides at the approach of Polyeucte and his friend
Néarque. They speak in vague terms of the imminent
conversion of Polyeucte to Christianity. A wild site in the
moonlight. Sextus, young Roman patrician, sings a barcarolle
in the distance, while a boat transporting young people and
women appears on the river. A Christian old man,
Siméon, regrets the decadence of the heathen and
leads in a group of Christian brothers. After a long prayer,
Néarque presents Polyeucte to the faithful assembly,
whereas Severe shelters in his hiding place. Polyeucte is
baptized during a long ceremony.
Acte III. A room in Félix's palace.
The heathen high priest Albin reveals to Félix,
Polyeucte and Severe, that he has been informed about the
progress of a Christians' night-meeting, and he swears that
Jupiter will bring down on them his vengeance. Severe
hesitates to express such a hatred for the Christians; he
indicates that he was a witness to the meeting and, without
revealing any names, that a person of a very important
social rank was baptized. After the departure of
Félix and Albin, Polyeucte thanks Severe for his
generosity, but adds that he would be happy to die for his
faith. Before his departure, Severe admits his surprise that
Polyeucte can hold his faith before his love for Pauline
(story and cantilena: " Quoi, c'est peu de perdre Pauline!
"). The sacrifice of the Christians in the temple is
imminent and Polyeucte announces to his friend
Néarque that he intends to smash the heathen idols
(duet: " Où pensez-vous aller? "). Néarque
agrees to join him. A square. At one end, the temple of
Jupiter. After a long sacred procession, which brings the
Christian victims, and an entertainment of heathen ballet,
Polyeucte runs in and declares that he is a Christian and
throws curses against the false gods of Rome. Pauline tries,
in vain, to prevent him from achieving his project of
destruction of the idols. The assembled crowd shouts for
Acte IV. A prison.
Polyeucte thoughts turn only towards heaven and the
emptiness of temporal life (stanzas: " Source
délicieuse "). Pauline implores him to save himself,
and to save their marriage, by giving up his conversion, but
her husband is deaf to her pleas (duet: " Polyeucte! Il en
est temps encore! "). He comforts and consols himself in the
recitation of the main events of the life of Christ. Pauline
declares that she is ready to die for Polyeucte. Polyeucte
tries to convince his wife to embrace Christianity, so that
they can be united after death. Severe appears suddenly and
offers Polyeucte the means to escape (trio: "
Sévère! Vous ici "). Pauline begs Polyeucte to
seize this opportunity, but Polyeucte remains determined to
face his fate. In vain, Félix offers him a last
chance to live by asking him to honour the heathen gods.
Act V. A square. At one end, an arena.
The crowd demands the blood of the Christians. Polyeucte is
brought in and intones a chant of Christian credo. Pauline
runs to join him, declaring that she has embraced the
Christian faith. Both sing the Credo when they are led
towards their death in the arena.