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Troilus & Cressida [W Walton]


The first of the two operas by William Walton (1902-1983). The libretto was by Christopher Hassall, his own first opera libretto, based on Chaucer‘s poem Troilus and Criseyde.


•  Act One   –   Troy, the Citadel.

Troy has been besieged by the Greeks for ten years. The people of Troy are desperately praying at the Temple of Pallas Athene for victory. Calkas, High Priest of Pallas, Cressida’s father, convinced that further resistance to the Greeks is useless, makes an impressive but vain attempt to awe the people into believing that the Delphic Oracle has advised surrender. The populace is divided, but the first to challenge him openly is Antenor, a young captain of spears and friend of Troilus. He is accusing Calkas of being in the pay of the Greeks when Troilus appears, rebukes his friend and gives assurance of the High Priest’s good faith. Antenor is not convinced, but goes off on a foray against the enemy while Troilus stays behind to exchange his first words with Cressida. He declares his love without avail, since Cressida, who has been tragically hurt in the past when her husband was cut down in battle, has vowed never to love again. But Troilus has been overheard by Pandarus, brother of Calkas, who undertakes to plead his cause for him. About to do this, Pandarus overhears Calkas bidding Cressida farewell and to his dismay discovers that his brother is deserting to the Greeks. Pandarus tries to console Cressida with the thought that a powerful Prince is in love with her. He has barely reached the crucial point of his case when the return of Troilus, anxious to hear how he has fared, coincides with the reappearance of the soldiers who went off under the leadership of Antenor. They explain that they were ambushed and their commander himself made captive. Troilus swears that if he fails to win back his friend by force he will persuade King Priam, his father, to negotiate for an exchange of prisoners. Whatever the Greeks demand in exchange shall be granted to them. He begs a blessing on his expedition, but a priest confesses that Calkas has mysteriously vanished. Pandarus, still bent on his intrigue, invites Cressida to a supper party at his house tomorrow evening and at the last moment prevails on her to let him deliver her scarf to Troilus as a ‘favour’. Troilus, banishing from his mind the realization that Cressida is the daughter of a traitor, exults in the first token of her goodwill.

•  Act Two

→Scene One In the house of Pandarus, evening of the next day.

troilus-Supper is over. Cressida and a fellow guest, Horaste, are playing chess. Bad weather has been blowing up, to the satisfaction of Pandarus, who has conceived a plan. He secretly dispatches a messenger to fetch Troilus, then begs his niece not to risk going home. Alone at last, she has to admit to herself that she who had renounced the world has fallen in love again. Pandarus comes back with the ‘startling’ news that Troilus is in the house (he has come there at Pandarus’s secret invitation). He bursts in, eager to comfort a by now confused and angry Cressida, and denounces the conspirator. Pandarus takes this as the moment for a quick exit. Troilus, alone with Cressida, urges her to relinquish the pain and darkness of her avowed solitude, and to ‘come alive in his arms’. At last, in a sudden embrace, the lovers are united and the ecstasy of their lovemaking is juxtaposed with the violent foreboding of the storm outside.

Scene Two The next morning.

The storm has blown over. Cressida, with Troilus at her side, watches the dawn break over the roofs of Troy. They are disturbed by the sound of approaching drums. Pandarus enters, panicked. A military deputation has come to the door. Troilus must on no account be discovered here. The lovers must conceal themselves while he deals with the situation. Diomede, commander of the Greeks, strides in on an urgent mission of state: an exchange of prisoners. He explains that Calkas has done the Greeks good service. He will, however, accept no reward other than his only child be restored to his care. By happy accident this request has coincided with a similar plea from King Priam for the return of Antenor, the friend whom Troilus has failed to redeem in battle. When Diomede produces the seals of Troy and Greece as authority for the exchanges Pandarus realises the trap has closed. Diomede searches the room and discovers Cressida standing alone. He cannot conceal his wonder at her beauty. He bids Pandarus make her ready for travel and then join him in the yard. Troilus enters from the balcony in a frenzy of frustration and despair. He promises to smuggle messages through the enemy lines. Meanwhile, as a symbol of their vows of fidelity, he gives back to Cressida the red scarf that she had given him the day before. And so, only hours after their union, the lovers are wrenched asunder.

•  Act Three   –   The Greek encampment. Evening, ten weeks later.

Cressida has received no word from Troilus. She persuades Evadne to go and for the last time keep watch at the frontier-line for a messenger. Calkas, finding Cressida alone, seizes the opportunity of reproaching her for her ill-advised coldness towards Diomede. He leaves her shaken, then the intrusion of Diomede takes her by surprise. Already not untouched by his personal charms, but still hoping against hope for word from Troilus, and also mindful of her father’s warnings, Cressida is caught in an agonizing dilemma. Evadne returns — no news from Troilus again — and this tips the balance. Cressida throws herself at Diomede — ‘take all you ask of me’ — and allows him to take her red scarf as a token of her favour. Diomede bids her make ready to be acclaimed that very night as his bride, Queen of Argos. Evadne, who has overheard this, secretly destroys the last of several messages from Troilus, all of which, in obedience to Calkas, she has concealed from Cressida. Then Troilus and Pandarus, admitted through the Greek lines in an hour of truce, come upon Evadne and urge her to fetch Cressida, whose ransom is being arranged. While Cressida is trying to convince Troilus that he has come too late, the Greeks begin to converge from all sides to pay her homage, among them Diomede wearing the scarf. Troilus in horror recognises the favour and claims Cressida as his own. Diomede orders her to renounce the Trojan but she cannot do it. The Greek camp and Diomede turn on her — ‘False Cressida’ — and Troilus too realises he has been betrayed. He draws his sword on Diomede, but is mortally wounded from behind by Calkas. Diomede sends Calkas back to Troy, but declares that Cressida must stay behind as a prisoner without privilege. She cheats her captors by taking her own life.

 . . .  EXCERPTS  from  Act II  . . .  ⇓

◊  . . .  Scene 1 :   ‘How can I sleep ?’   ↓

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano (Cressida); Richard Lewis, tenor (Troilus) -Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by William Walton

Cressida goes to the alcove and sits on the end of the bed.
How can I sleep? (She rises, restless.)
All thro’ that stupid game the table swam before me.
I could think of nothing, nothing but Troilus.
Must I again endure this wild unrest?
Some jealous god is watching me;
I feel his frowns upon me.
Gone are my dreams of careless freedom,
peace without ecstasy, peace without harrowing pain.
I’m helpless, betrayed.
Oh, bewitch’d was the hour I prayed never to love again.
At the haunted end of the day your voice, dear love, your voice alone I hear.
Thro’ the silent hours of the day I see your face, a phantom, hovering near.
How can I sleep when love is waking?
What is the dark when dawn is breaking?
Troilus, why does your name enchant me?
Call off these visions that ravish and haunt me!
At the spell-bound end of the day love rules alone,
and counts the spoils of war. I surrender, bear me away,
Troilus, friend or foe,
Troilus, my conqueror.
Pandarus enters, leaving the door ajar.
If one last doubt, one lurking fear remains,
banish it, Cressida. Have faith in me.
Now nothing stands between us, nothing but your fears!
I cannot fight with shadows.
Show me these lurking terrors,
fetch out these tyrants, and I’ll destroy them.
Here is your refuge, close to my body,
close to the fire in my heart,
the flame that sears the flesh and sets the spirit free,
that pain which is no pain but only ecstasy.
O my belov’d, my life, my own, dearest one let me adore.
The world may chatter and rage;
be deaf to its harsh alarms;
fear nothing more.
Then Cressid, Cressid, when the past has died,
live again at my side, come alive in my arms!
They embrace.
New life, new love! I am reborn.
The past has died with all its pain. Love!
In my heart the yellow leaves are slowly turning green again.
Kind are the gods or our joys have silenced Olympus.
Their threats are over.
They have pass’d us by
far away on their shining journey
they frown no longer.
Kind are the gods —
Why, no, we have scaled their mountain,
and the snows are singing.
The world has rekindled her fires
and the flow’rs are springing.
Kind are the gods, but one above all, proud Aphrodite.
She is here, she is here, in our blood, in the air that shimmers around us.
At her command the stars in their courses are halted,
she holds the morning at bay,
the fiery horses chafe at their harness and the chariot no longer approaches.
 The darkness trembles, waiting, waiting!
They have heard thy stern voice commanding.
Thou shalt feast and rejoice and be glad with us.
Thou hast answered our prayer.

(Pandarus enters with a cushion under his arm. He stays by the door, enraptured by the turn of events. He now quietly snuffs the three-branch candles nearest the door and, still with the cushion under his arm, tiptoes gingerly from the door) 

◊  ‘Now hold me close and let me lie there curled’  ↓ [. . . Act II]
• Cressida:
Now hold me close and let me lie there curled.
Dearest, my love, surround me, hold me fast.
• Troilus:
I close my arms, and so shut out the world.
• Both:
There howls the wind, but here the storm is pass’d.There howls the wind, but we are safe at last.
(A flash of lightening is seen through the shutters and the gauze descend)…
Scene II

The stage gradually fills with light revealing that the shutters have been closed. Cressida comes out of the alcove and throws open the shutters. Troilus is in the shadows, leaning against the partition.

•  Cressida

From isle to isle chill waters whisper the hour, catching the crimson of a sky on fire. Oh must I wake to find this glory gone? Be still, my heart. If this be sleep, sleep on.

(Troilus comes to her side)

•  Troilus

If this be sleep, sleep on.

(In the far distance drums are heard, gradually getting nearer…)

♦  The Storm  ↓  [Act II – Scene 2]

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