A sort of Reader's Digest version of Bergsma's opera in three acts based on the strange story of Martin Guerre, a sixteenth-century tale of a husband lost and refound, or perhaps not? Artfully sung by Mary Judd as Bertrande, the titular wife, the cast is capable and clear. The chamber orchestra gets special mention for its great transparency and brilliance, especially the solo work of the great Robert Nagel on trumpet.
The first public performance of The Wife of Martin Guerre was given by the Juilliard Opera Theater February 15, 1956, under the direction of Frederic Cohen, Frederic Waldman conducting.
The Story of the Opera
In 1548, Martin Guerre, a young peasant of the village of Artigues in southern France, left his wife, Bertrande, and their infant son in order to evade the anger of his father over a minor theft. He planned to be gone only a week. Eight years, however, elapsed before his family had any news of him. Then, as far as his family could judge, he returned, improved by the years, and took control of his farm, his father having died during his absence. It was not until she was pregnant by him that Bertrande, in bewilderment and torment, came to the conviction that it was not her husband who had returned, but another man. To her guilt and horror at this conviction was added the realization that she loved him more than she had loved her husband.
Her own household believed she had gone mad. One day, a wandering blackguard, rebuffed by her husband, called him an imposter; the true Martin Guerre, he said, had lost a leg in the wars. Distraught, Bertrande made her strange and tragic accusation.
Two trials followed. The first, at Rieux, condemned the accused to death. The second, which decided for the prisoner, was interrupted by her true husband’s return. Bertrande knelt at her true husband’s feet, exhausted by the suffering she had endured to restore her honor, and met with his cold statement: “The error into which you plunged could only have been wilful blindness. You and you alone, Madame, are responsible for the dishonor which has befallen me.”
[Excerpt from the original LP liner notes]
This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available as a burn-on-demand CD (CD-R) or download in MP3/320, FLAC or WAV formats. CD-Rs come in a protective sleeve; no print booklet or jewel case included. Liner notes are accessible via the link above.