was written in 1897 for the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt. Edmond Rostand was just twenty-nine years old, but he was already displaying the talent for the theatre that ten months later would make him famous world-wide with the amazing success of Cyrano de Bergerac. Sarah, now in her fifties, was looking for poetical works of just the kind Rostand wanted to write. Although Rostand’s first play for Sarah, La Princesse lointaine, performed in 1895, displeased the critics, Sarah had faith in Rostand’s talent and commissioned another play, this time with a religious theme, as it was to be performed at Easter. The description tableaux stresses the visual as well as poetic beauty of the play.
La Samaritaine, first performed at Easter 1895, was a great success with both public and critics, thanks to Rostand’s lyrical verse, Sarah’s presence and thrilling voice, and the visual beauty of the costumes and settings, enhanced by the music of Gabriel Pierné. It became a favourite part of Sarah Bernhardt’s repertoire. The eminent critic Émile Faguet described the play as a “triumph of tenderness, and of emotion full and sweet with religious sensitivity”. Apparently even the cast had tears in their eyes as the final curtain fell.
Rostand called the woman Photine and kept closely to the story told in St John’s Gospel (John IV, 1-42). In order to make Sarah’s role of the Samaritan woman the central character, he shows in the second tableau how Photine persuades the townsfolk to come with her to see the Messiah. But all Jesus’s teaching, lyrically expressed by the converted Photine, is taken from the gospels.
ROSTAND'S ATTITUDE TO LIFE AND RELIGION
Rostand stresses three aspects of Jesus’s teaching in this play: the spiritual nature of true worship; the power of God’s love to inspire and redeem, and the respect due to all human beings, however humble or despised. In La Samaritaine, Rostand was expressing his own sincere, if unorthodox, religious feeling, which, portrayed in the most artistic way and the most reverently lyrical verse of which he was capable, struck a corresponding chord in his audience. We believe that modern audiences, too, will respond to this gentle and moving play, now published in paperback and as a Kindle title by Genge Press (see below).
This play has previously been translated into (now dated) English rhymed verse by Mrs Henderson Dangerfield Norman as TheWoman of Samaria (“Collected Plays of Edmond Rostand, vol. 1” (New York & London: Macmillan, 1921; Bibliolife LLC, 2011). An English version by Wilfred Grantham and May Agate, The Woman of Samaria, with music by Maurice Jacobson, was broadcast by the BBC in July 1945. In France, an annotated edition of the original French text by Philippe Bulinge was published recently (L’Harmattan, 2004). Max d’Ollone’s drame lyrique: La Samaritaine, was performed at the Paris Opéra in July 1937. It was later broadcast on France-Musique (May 1955, August 2000).
La Samaritaine has now been translated into English prose for Genge Press by Philippa Gerry and Sue Lloyd. Now available as a Kindle Title, price £2.80, $4.01.
The Woman of Samaria has now been published as a paperback, along with La Dernière Nuit de Don Juan in one volume under the title
SACRED AND PROFANE LOVE (Genge Press, UK, 2015) ISBN 978-0-95490436-4, pages i-vi, 1-154. Cost: £12.00 in UK, post and packing £2.00. $20 including post and packing , USA.
CRITICAL REVIEW OF SACRED AND PROFANE LOVE
Francis Phillips warmly reviewed Sacred and Profane Love in her book review for theCatholic Herald (February 2016). She enjoyed these plays so much that she was also moved to write in her blog about “The French playwright who teaches us lessons for the soul”.
All Genge Press titles may be purchased from Genge Press. If you live in the UK or wish to pay in pounds sterling, please send us your name and address, along with a cheque, payable to “Sue Lloyd”, for the correct amount, including postage. We also accept all major currencies via the secure PayPal server.