Louise is an opera in four acts by Gustave Charpentier to an original French libretto by the composer. It premiered on 2 February 1900 at the Opéra-Comique.
The opera attempted to depict Parisian working-class life, and is sometimes considered an early example of verismo opera. The city itself is the true star of this very atmospheric work. It tells the story of the ill-fated love between Louise, a seamstress living with her parents in Paris, and Julien, a young artist.
The opera was quite successful, and launched the career of Scottish soprano Mary Garden, who took over the title role during an early performance when the leading soprano fell ill. A film version of the work was made in 1939 with Grace Moore in the title role. There are several recordings of it, and it is occasionally performed today. "Depuis le jour", an aria taken from it, is a popular recital piece.
Act One (The Parisian home of Louise's parents)
Louise has fallen in love with her neighbor, Julien. At the opening of the opera, they recall how they met. Louise's mother interrupts them and vocally expresses her disapproval of Julien. The exhausted father comes home from work and his wife and daughter implore him to quit the taxing job. However, he feels that it is his responsibility to provide for his family. At supper, he reads a letter that Julien left in which he proposed marriage to Louise. He is indifferent, but the mother is livid and, when Louise stands up for Julien, she slaps Louise across the face. The peaceful father asks his daughter to sit with him and read the paper. As she reads about springtime in Paris, she breaks down and cries.
Scene one (A street in Paris) begins with a prelude that suggests dawn in Paris. The curtain rises to a bustling scene where people go about their daily routines and comment about life in general. The Noctambulist enters and calls himself the spirit of the Pleasure of Paris, and then leaves with the daughter of a ragman. Julien appears with a group of fellow bohemians to show them where Louise works. He tells them that if her parents do not consent to marriage, he will carry the girl off. Julien and his companions go off and he sings that the medley of sounds around him is the voice of Paris itself. Louise and her Mother arrive at the dressmaking store where Louise works (her mother brings her to work everyday). When the mother leaves, Julien returns. Louise tells him she loves him, but she loves her parents too much to leave them. He tries to persuade her to run off with him and she finally agrees to do so soon.
Scene two (Inside Louise's place of work) begins with Louise being teased by the other seamstress girls for being in love. A band is heard outside and Julien sings a serenade. The girls admire him for his looks and voice. Louise quietly slips away - to run off with Julien.
Act Three (A cottage overlooking Paris)
The act opens with the opera's most well known aria, "Depuis le jour"; the lovers have moved into a cottage overlooking Paris and in the aria she sings of her happiness with her new existence and with her lover. A long love duet ensues in which they sing of their love for each other and Paris. Many Bohemians enter and crown Louise Queen of Montmartre. The Noctambulist presides as the King of the Fools. Louise's mother appears and the festivities end. She tells Louise of her father's illness and that her father creeps into Louise's room in the middle of the night, even though they agreed to regard her as dead. Even Julien is moved, and he lets Louise leave on the promise she will return whenever she wishes.
Act Four (The Parisian home of Louise's parents)
The father has regained his health and spirits. He is working again, but has come to accept poverty in a philosophical way. His recovery can be attributed to the return of Louise, whom he takes into his arms and sings a lullaby. She is not comforted and longs to be with Julien again. A merry waltz is heard outside and Louise takes it up, singing madly of love and freedom. Her parents are shocked and her father becomes increasingly angry. He shouts at Louise and demands that she leave; if that is what she wants, let her go and dance and laugh! He begins to attack her, but the mother stands in the way. Louise runs from the room to go back to Julien. Only then does the father realise what he did. "Louise, Louise!" he calls. She is gone and in despair he shakes his fist at the city that stole his daughter, "Paris!" he moans and the opera closes.