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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 4

Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix

by Wah Keung Chan / December 1, 2014

Version française...

Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix score

Just listening to the music and words of “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,” one cannot help but be captivated by Saint-Saëns’s gem. That’s why in La Scena Musicale’s survey of greatest love songs (February 2001), “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” ranked fourth and is a perennial favourite in La Scena’s annual Singing Valentines fundraiser.

The aria follows a traditional ABAB structure, starting with repetitive ascending-descending chords in the strings evoking gentle breezes and is marked andantino cantabile (quarter beat=66). According to Ralph Locke in The Journal of Musicology, the style of the aria involves “standard Romantic-era techniques for conveying beauty, passion, and seductiveness, including ecstatic vocal leaps, melodic phrases that extend asymmetrically, rich harmony, and liquid writing for winds.” A slowing of tempo on a long note leads to part B, marked with the tempo un peu plus lent (a bit slower) at the words “Ah! Réponds à ma tendresse,” suggesting exoticism with its chromatic descent, which Locke proposes is “snake-like slitheriness.”

“The aria is written in the easiest range for a normal mezzo, the low range rings round in the mouth… The high range is limited to G-flat, where all resonances of mouth, face, palate and head can meet gloriously,” according to Martial Singher, in An Interpretive Guide to Operatic Arias.

In fact, the song is Dalila’s Act II aria from Saint-Saëns’s opera Samson et Dalila, composed in 1877, one of three great arias for the female lead (“Printemps qui commence” and “Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse” are the others).  It was actually the first music Saint-Saëns composed for the opera.

In the context of the opera, Samson, torn between his fight to free the Hebrews from the Philistines and his love for Dalila, has just admitted his love to her singing “Je t’aime.” Dalila, who is plotting revenge for her people, the Philistines, uses all her womanly wiles in “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” to gain his devotion so that he might reveal the source of his power.

At the end of each verse, the aria becomes a duet with Samson singing “Je t’aime” climaxing to a high B-flat. As a solo piece, the mezzo normally takes up that musical line with the words “Samson, je t’aime” matching the high B-flat.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Dalila

“Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” has been central to the repertoire of Marie-Nicole Lemieux as a competition piece since her student days. “It’s musically a magical moment,” says Lemieux. When she sings it in her first production at the Montreal Opera, “It will be the first time, I sing it with a tenor,” Lemieux says. It’s rare for a role to have three great arias in an opera, and Lemieux is looking forward to those highlights. However, for her, the challenge is to approach the role as a whole. “Dalila is on the dark side of the moon,” says Lemieux. “When I go on stage, I try to find a human side because no one is completely black or white. At the beginning, despite the objections of her people, she genuinely likes Samson. But he leaves her three times to fight against her people. She is wounded by that, and she fights to make amends. She is not evil.”

Fourteen years ago, Lemieux told La Scena that Dalila was one of her three dream roles. The year 2014 has been a year of new roles: the lead in Rossini’s Tancredi and Azucena in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, capped by her dream role. Lemieux feels Dalila fits her to a tee, “the tessitura is really perfect, very low, ideal for a contralto.” So the challenge in Dalila is to sing the French text with the right legato and colour. “I have to be careful of the quality of the voice to find the way to make the words clear and to give the right emotion,” she tells us.

Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,
comme s’ouvrent les fleurs
aux baisers de l’aurore !
Mais, ô mon bienaimé,
pour mieux sécher mes pleurs,
que ta voix parle encore !
Dis-moi qu’à Dalila
tu reviens pour jamais.
Redis à ma tendresse
les serments d’autrefois,
ces serments que j’aimais !
Ah! réponds à ma tendresse !
Verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse ! 
Dalila ! Dalila ! Je t’aime !
My heart opens to your voice
Like the flowers open
To the kisses of dawn!
But, oh my beloved,
To better dry my tears,
Let your voice speak again!
Tell me that you are returning
To Delilah forever!
Repeat to my tenderness
The promises of old times,
Those promises that I loved!
Ah! Respond to my tenderness!
Fill me with ecstasy! 
Dalila! Dalila! I love you!
Ainsi qu’on voit des blés
les épis onduler
sous la brise légère,
ainsi frémit mon cœur,
prêt à se consoler,
à ta voix qui m’est chère !
La flèche est moins rapide
à porter le trépas,
que ne l’est ton amante
à voler dans tes bras !
Ah! réponds à ma tendresse !
Verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse !
Dalila ! Dalila ! Je t’aime !
As one sees the blades
Of wheat that wave
In the light wind,
So trembles my heart,
Ready to be consoled,
By your voice that is dear to me!
The arrow is less rapid
In bringing death,
Than is your lover
To fly into your arms!
Ah! Respond to my tenderness!
Fill me with ecstasy!
Dalila! Dalila! I love you!

Version française...
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