Genevieve of Brabant

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Genevieve of Brabant is the name of a heroine of medieval legend, and a character in a number of dramatized works.

(Also found as Geneviève de Brabant, Genoveva or Genovefa)

The legend

According to the legend (apparently based on the real history of Marie of Brabant, wife of Louis II, Duke of Bavaria and Count Palatine of the Rhine), she was the wife of the palatine Siegfried of Treves, falsely accused of infidelity by the head of the household and sentenced to death, However, she was spared by the executioner to lived for six years with her son in a cave in the Ardennes, where Siegfried discovered her and reinstated her in her former honour.[1]

Stage versions of the legend

Among the many dramatized versions of the story are:

Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva a dramatic poem by Ludwig Tieck (1799)

Genoveva a play by Christian Friedrich Hebbel (1843)

Genoveva an opera by Robert Schumann (1850, inspired by Hebbel's play)

Geneviève de Brabant an opéra bouffe[2] by Jacques Offenbach (1859)

Genoveva a play by Mathilde Wesendonck (1866)

Geneviève de Brabant a stage work by Erik Satie (1899/1900)

Genoveva a Dutch play by Frans Demers and Jan Melis (1912).

Suor Angelica an opera by Giacomo Puccini (1918 opera, inspired by Hebbel's play)

The versions performed in South Africa

Geneviève de Brabant by Jacques Offenbach (1859)

The original text

Written as an opéra bouffe[3] (in two acts and seven tableaux) by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)[4], with a French libretto by Louis-Adolphe Jaime (1825-1901)[5] and Étienne Tréfeu (1821-1903)[6], it was first performed was first staged at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, Paris, on 19 November 1859.

The opera was revised as a new three-act piece (with nine tableaux) by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux (1828-1893)[7], , and opened at the Théâtre des Menus-Plaisirs, Paris, on 26 December 1867. An expanded five-act version had a production at the Théâtre de la Gaîté on 25 February 1875.

Translations and adaptations

An English adaptation of the two-act version by H.B. Farnie (1836-1889)[8], was first performed as an "Opera Bouffe", in two acts and six tableaux in London at the Royal Philharmonic Theatre in Islington on 11 November 1871. The production ran for a year and a half and the text was published in London by Gee in 1872.

A literal English version of the later three-act version (by an unnamed translator) was published (in parallel with the French libretto) by Oliver Ditson & Co., 277 Washington Street, Boston, in 1868, and had its New York premiere on 22 October 1868.

Performance history in South Africa

1872: A performance of "a laughable and popular extract from Offenbach's Opera" (probably the Farnie English version) by a Signor Abecco and a company of amateurs as part of a concert evening, probably in the Catholic Hall (formerly best known as the St Aloysius Hall), Cape Town

Genoveva by Frans Demers and Jan Melis

Also written Genovefa at times.

The original text

The play is based on Genoveva (also named Genoveva de Brabante or Genovefa in editions), a German prose version of the original legend by Christoph von Schmid [9] (1768-1854). Adapted for the stage as a sentimental three act Dutch play by Frans Demers (1905–1993)[10] and Jan Melis (1902–1974)[11], with musical adaptions by Arthur Meulemans (1884-1966)[12]. The text published in Antwerpen by the Jos Janssens, 1930.

Translations and adaptations

Adapted as an opera, Suor Angelica, by Giacomo Puccini.

Translated into Afrikaans as Genoveva by Mrs Carinus-Holzhausen, first produced in South Africa during the 1930s and the text later published by DALRO (1969).

Performance history in South Africa

1931-2: The Afrikaans version was produced as Genoveva by André Huguenet, with Huguenet and Lydia Lindeque in the leading roles. In his autobiography he states that it was intended as repertoire piece for his national tours and according to Huguenet (1950, pp. 100-102), and that he was very aware of the far-fetched and melodramatic nature of the play, but wanted to offer something for the older generation as he toured the rural towns - so went ahead, However, he sought to temper what he referred to as the "screaming" nature of the piece in his direction by emphasising the religious undertone and the oracular nature of the work, and trying to adapt the performances of his young cast to this end. According to him even ministers of the Afrikaans church were enamoured with the play and would stand up to applaud and make speeches to the audience after the shows. However, Binge (1969, p. 172) would later scathingly refer to the play as an immensely sentimental and tear-soaked religious play, and express his doubts that it actually have gained true support from the members of the more stoic Afrikaans churches.


Libretto of the original two-act version of Offenbach's opera[13]

Facsimile version of the original 1871 adaptation by Farnie, Hathi Trust Digital Library[14]

C.H. Ditson & Co's French/English published text for the three-act version of Offenbach's opera (1868), Library of Congress[15]

"Elsing, Johan Mark / Demers Frans" on the website Schrijversgewijs [16]

"Melis Jan" on the website Schrijversgewijs [17]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p.281

Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p.172

André Huguenet 1950a. Applous! Die Kronieke van 'n Toneelspeler. Kaapstad: HAUM: pp. 100-102.

NELM catalogue.

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