This one-act opera, Claflin's third, is interesting for its use of European material. His first major works based on literature came from American sources: his 1929 work for Orchestra, "Moby Dick Suite", and his second opera, Hester Prynne, based on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Claflin brings a French sensibility to the American milieu. He was as familiar and friendly with Milhaud, Poulenc, and Satie as he was Copland and Virgil Thomson, who penned the notes for this release.
La Grande Bretèche, Avery Claflin’s third opera, was completed in 1947. The libretto, by George R. Mills, is based on a story by Balzac. This story is one which Balzac himself retold several times and which has been made into an opera by at least four composers. Balzac first published it in 1832 in “Scenes from Private Life.” It next appeared in his “Scenes from Provincial Life,” which are dated 1832-36. Its final appearance in his work was, in still another telling, in the fifth edition of the “Scenes from Private Life,” which are dated 1839-42. William H. Royce, Balzac authority, considers that Poe cribbed some details from one of the early versions for his “Fall of the House of Usher,” which was published in 1839.
Balzac takes some pains to give the quality of a real incident to his tale about La Grande Bretèche, the name of an imaginary estate in the Loire Valley, by telling it through the mouth of a visiting doctor who claims to have had it from an elderly notary, former administrator of the property, and also from a chambermaid who had been eye witness to the tragedy. Briefly stated, it is about a husband who, suspecting correctly that his wife has hidden a lover in her bedroom closet, calls in a mason and has the closet walled up before her eyes.