Nina (Dalayrac)

Nina, ou La folle par amour (Nina, or The Woman Crazed with Love) is an opéra-comique in one act by the French composer Nicolas Dalayrac. It was first performed on 15 May 1786 by the Comédie-Italienne at the first Salle Favart in Paris. The libretto, by Benoît-Joseph Marsollier des Vivetières, is based on a short story by Baculard d'Arnaud.

Background and performance history

Nina was Dalayrac's first collaboration with Marsollier des Vivetières, who would go on to write many more librettos for him, including Les deux petits savoyards. Revived by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Feydeau in July 1802, Nina was a popular success, which it remained until receiving its last performance by the company in 1852.[1][2] It was also performed in translation in London and Hamburg in 1787 and in Italy in 1788.[3][4]

Its most famous aria, "Quand le bien-aimé reviendra" ("When my sweetheart returns to me"), is mentioned by Hector Berlioz in his Memoirs as his "first musical experience" (he heard an adaptation of the melody sung during his First Communion).[5][6]

In 1813 Dalayrac's score for Nina was adapted as a ballet by Louis Milon and Louis-Luc Loiseau de Persuis with Émilie Bigottini in the title role. In the ballet version, "Quand le bien-aimé reviendra" is played as a solo for cor anglais. It was at one of the early performances of this ballet that Berlioz remembered the melody he had heard in his childhood.[5]

Giovanni Paisiello had also set the libretto in an Italian version adapted by Giambattista Lorenzi. Paisiello's Nina, which premiered in 1789 is still performed today, while Dalayrac's has fallen into obscurity.


Cast[7] Voice type Premiere, 15 May 1786
Nina, the Count's daughter, having lost her mind some months beforehand soprano Louise Dugazon
The Count, her father tenor[8] Philippe Cauvy, called 'M. Philippe'
Georges, the Count's foster-father basse-taille (bass-baritone) Pierre-Marie Narbonne[9]
Elise, Nina's confidante and housekeeper soprano Mme Gonthier (née Françoise Carpentier)
Germeuil, Nina's sweetheart, believed dead tenor[8] Louis Michu
Mathurine, a peasant woman soprano Mme La Caille (also spelled Lacaille)
Peasant girls sopranos Rosalie de Saint-Évreux ('Mlle Rosalie'), Mlle Méliancourt, Mlle Lefevre,
Mlle Renaud 'Cadette' (the younger),[10] Mlle Chevalier
Peasants, old men, youth


Nina is in love with Germeuil but her father, Count Lindoro, favours another suitor. Germeuil and his rival fight a duel. Nina believes that Germeuil has been killed and goes mad, forgetting aspects of the traumatic incident in a manner consistent with a diagnosis of psychogenic amnesia.[11] She only regains her reason when Germeuil reappears unharmed and her father finally allows him to marry her.


Although there are no full-length recordings of Nina, its most famous aria, "Quand le bien-aimé reviendra", can be heard on Serate Musicali (Joan Sutherland (soprano), Richard Bonynge (piano), Decca, 2006)


  1. Wild & Charlton 2005, pp. 340–341.
  2. Loewenberg (1943), Annals of Opera
  3. Bampton Classical Opera (1999). It was also performed in Russia in french in 1780s (on the scenes of the private theatres of S.-Petersbourg and Moscow) and in 1797 in translation on the scenes of the Gatchina and Petersbourg Imperial theatres.Programme Notes for Giovanni Paisiello: Nina
  4. Castelvecchi, Stefano (1996)."From "Nina" to "Nina": Psychodrama, Absorption and Sentiment in the 1780s". Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2 (July 1996), pp. 91-112 (subscription required)
  5. Berlioz, Hector (1966). Memoirs of Hector Berlioz: From 1803 to 1865 translated and edited by Eleanor Holmes and Ernest Newman. Courier Dover Publications, p. 21. ISBN 0-486-21563-6
  6. Kelly, Barbara L. and Murphy, Kerry eds. (2007). Berlioz and Debussy: Sources, Contexts and Legacies. Ashgate Publishing, p. 4. ISBN 0-7546-5392-7
  7. Cast list from the original libretto, excepting the performer of the Count, whose name has been drawn from this subsequent libretto: Nina, Ou La Folle Par Amour : Comédie En Un Acte, En Prose, Mêlée D'Ariettes , Paris, Peytieux, 1789 (accessible for free online at Bayerischen StaatsBibliothek digital).
  8. According to David Charlton the roles of the Count and Germeuil are baritone parts. In fact, both are notated in the tenor clef in the original printed score.
  9. Sources will refer to this singer stating simply his surname 'Narbonne'. Campardon does not report any first name, either, in his work on the 'comédiens italiens' cited below (article: Narbonne, II, p. 29), whereas the name 'Pierre-Marie' is set forth in his later book on the Académie Royale de Musique, where Narbonne began his career (L'Académie Royale de Musique au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1884, II, p. 193). The name 'Louis' is given instead by Georges de Froidcourt in his collection of Grétry's correspondence (La correspondance générale de Grétry, Bruxelles, Brepols, 1962, p. 145, footnote 8).
  10. There were another two sisters Renaud, Rose, called 'l'Ainée' (the elder), and Sophie, called 'la jeune' (the youngest), acting at the Comédie Italienne towards the end of the eighties (Campardon, article Renaud (Mlles), II, pp. 78-82).
  11. Goldsmith, R.E., Cheit, R.E., and Wood, M.E. (2009) Evidence of Dissociative Amnesia in Science and Literature: Culture-Bound Approaches to Trauma in Pope, Poliakoff, Parker, Boynes, and Hudson (2007). Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Volume 10, Issue 3 July 2009, pp. 237 - 253, doi:10.1080/15299730902956572
  • Original libretto: Nina, ou la Folle par amour, Comédie en un acte, en prose, mêlée d'ariettes, Paris, Brunet, 1786 (accessible for free online as a Google ebook-gratis)
  • Original printed score: Nina, ou la Folle par amour, Comédie en un acte, en prose, Paris, Le Duc, s.d. (accessible for free on-line at Internet Archives)
  • The Viking Opera Guide ed. Holden (Viking, 1993)
  • Campardon, Émile (ed), Les Comédiens du roi de la troupe italienne pendant les deux derniers siècles: documents inédits recueillis aux Archives Nationales, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1880 (accessible for free online at Internet Archive: Volume I (A-L); Volume II (M-Z))
  • Charlton, David (1992), 'Nina, ou La folle par amour' in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Wild, Nicole; Charlton, David (2005). Théâtre de l'Opéra-Comique Paris: répertoire 1762-1972. Sprimont, Belgium: Editions Mardaga. ISBN 9782870098981.
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