(Creation in the Opera, on April 16, 1851)
Situation : L'Olympe et Lesbos, VIe
siècle avant Jésus-Christ.
Act 1. The Olympic Games.
After a procession of introduction, Phaon and
Pythéas remain alone. Pythéas wonders openly
about the causes of the discouragement of his friend. He
suspects Phaon to be less concerned by the oppressing regime
of the tyrant Pittacus in Lesbos, than torn between the love
of two women, the courtesan Glycère and the poetess
Sapho. Pythéas is concerned by this affair, because
he is himself in love with Glycère. Phaon finally
admits that Pythéas's suspicions are grounded
(romance: " Puis-je oublier "). Sapho arrives, getting ready
to participate in a competition of poetic recitation. To
Pythéas enjoyment, Phaon and Sapho begins to express
their mutual love. Their meeting is brutally interrupted by
Glycène, who did'nt know she had a rival in Phaon's
heart (quartet: "Quel entretien si doux "). The imbroglio
turns short at the entrance of the poet Alcée, main
competitor of Sapho. He pulls Pythéas and Phaon
aside, and announces he is going to test the mood of the
assembly on a possible political change, in his poetic
offering. Competition begins. Alcée sings freedom and
justice (ode: " Liberté, déesse austère
") and is delighted with Phaon of the positive answer of the
assembly to the appeal. Sapho recites then Héro and
Léandre's history (ode: " Héro sur la tour
solitaire "). The crowd reacts even more favorably to
Sapho's poetry and proclaims her victory over Alcée.
The act ends on the hymn of Sapho's gratitude (final: "
Merci Vénus "), and Phaon's oath swearing that his
heart belongs to her amid the shouts of praise and action of
Acte II. Phaon's villa on the island of
A group is gathered for a banquet. But these festivities are
a cover-up of a plot against Pittacus (oath: " Oui, jurons
tous "). Pythéas is not incited by this plan, but he
is given the written oath to have it copied by his slaves,
and posted all over the island at a given hour. All leave
the scene with the exception of Pythéas, then
Glycène enters and asks him questions on the meeting.
Seizing this opportunity of intimacy with her, he agrees to
supply her with proof of the plot if she comes to see him a
little later in the night (duet: " Il m'aurait plu"). Having
gathered the information from Pythéas for that price,
Glycère writes quickly to Pittacus to reveal him the
plot. She gives the message to a slave to deliver at once.
Glycère stumbles into Sapho who has just entered the
villa to see Phaon; she suggests not to reveal the plot to
the tyrant, provided that Sapho agrees to convince Phaon to
leave Lesbos without her (duet: " Phaon pour vous est
magnifique" ). Sapho agrees. Phaon arrives personally for a
courteous meeting with Sapho. Glycène announce to him
that Pythéas visited Pittacus to reveal him the plot
(trio: " je viens sauver ta tête "). Phaon asks Sapho
to follow him in exile, but she insists to stay. Phaon
blames Sapho for this infidelity and agrees very fast to
take Glycère with him.
Acte III. A wind swept beach .
Phaon waits for the other conspirators so that they can
escape together. He sings his misfortunes in life and love
(air: " O jours heureux "). The conspirators and
Glycère arrive one by one (choir: " Adieu Patrie ").
Sapho is also present and Glycère, to insure Phaon's
allegiance, asks him if he always loves the poetess. Phaon
answers by condemning Sapho for the infernal gods. While the
conspirators go away, Sapho surmounts her bitterness and
give her blessings to Phaon. Exhausted by his dismissal, she
faints. A herdsman passes (song: "Broutez le thym "). Back
to her senses, Sapho chooses the only way which is open to
her; having sung a set of stanzas (" O ma lyre immortelle),
she throws herself into the sea.