Thérèse Raquin

  • December 29, 1999
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Libretto (En) by Gene Scheer Based on the novel by Émile Zola


Commissioned: The Dallas Opera, L’Opéra de Montréal, The San Diego Opera

Premiere: November 30, 2001; Dallas Opera; Graeme Jenkins, conductor; Francesca Zambello, stage direction; Marie Jeanne Lecca, costumes; Marie Jeanne Lecca, stage design


Duration: 120’

Publisher: Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)



Orchestra Instrumentation:

2(1.afl, 2.pic).2(2.ca).2(2.bcl).2(2.cbsn)-, mar, vib, sus cym, gong, tam-t, s.d, b.d, tempbl)-hp.pno-str(



1(pic).1(ca).1(bcl).1(cbsn)-2.0.ttbn(btbn).0-perc(timp, xyl, glsp, mar)-hp.pno-str(


Cast of characters

Thérèse Raquin · mezzo-soprano

Camille Raquin · tenor

Madame Lisette Raquin · soprano

Laurent · baritone

Suzanne · soprano

Olivier · bass

Monsieur Grivet · tenor


Premiere Cast

Madame Lisette Raquin - Diana Soviero (soprano)

Thérèse Raquin - Sara Fulgoni (mezzo-soprano)

Camille Raquin - Gordon Gietz (tenor)

Laurent - Richard Bernstein (bass-baritone)

Suzanne Michaud - Sheryl Woods (soprano)

Olivier Michaud - Gagor Andrasy (bass)

Monsieur Grivet - Peter Kazaras



Orchestra Instrumentation:

2(1.afl, 2.pic).2(2.ca).2(2.bcl).2(2.cbsn)-, mar, vib, sus cym, gong, tam-t, s.d, b.d, tempbl)-hp.pno-str(



1(pic).1(ca).1(bcl).1(cbsn)-2.0.ttbn(btbn).0-perc(timp, xyl, glsp, mar)-hp.pno-str(


Cast of characters

Thérèse Raquin · mezzo-soprano

Camille Raquin · tenor

Madame Lisette Raquin · soprano

Laurent · baritone

Suzanne · soprano

Olivier · bass

Monsieur Grivet · tenor


Premiere Cast

Madame Lisette Raquin - Diana Soviero (soprano)

Thérèse Raquin - Sara Fulgoni (mezzo-soprano)

Camille Raquin - Gordon Gietz (tenor)

Laurent - Richard Bernstein (bass-baritone)

Suzanne Michaud - Sheryl Woods (soprano)

Olivier Michaud - Gagor Andrasy (bass)

Monsieur Grivet - Peter Kazaras




Commissioned: Chamber version commissioned by Opera Theatre Europe

Premiere: March 14, 2006; London, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, UK; Timothy Redmond, conductor; Lee Blakeley, costume design; Emma M. Wee, stage design


Orchestration: 1(pic).1(ca).1(bcl).1(cbsn)-2.0.ttbn(btbn).0-perc(timp, xyl, glsp, mar)-hp.pno-str(

Duration: 110’




Paris, 1866. Late afternoon.


Madame Raquin and daughter-in-law, Thérèse, are folding laundry and discussing her son Camille's improved health and prospects. Camille rushes in with the news that their friend Laurent is coming to complete Camille's portrait. Laurent arrives with flowers for both women. Thrilled with the finished picture, Camille leaves to buy champagne. Left alone, Thérèse and Laurent, clearly familiar with each other, embrace. Therese describes the details of her early life and her marriage at 18 to her cousin. She explains that she consented to the marriage out of a sense of obligation to her aunt. She does not love Camille; Laurent is her hope, her grand passion.


The following Thursday, Madame Raquin and her friend Suzanne are sewing new dresses. Olivier and Monsieur Grivet, a colleague of Camille's, arrive. Laurent and Camille enter, and the portrait is unveiled, applauded, and toasted. Privately, Laurent tells Thérèse that their midday trysts must end. His supervisor has threatened to fire him. She says she will do anything to be with him.


On Sunday afternoon, after a walk along the banks of the Seine, Camille naps while Laurent and Thérèse profess their love. In a moment of passion Laurent suggests killing Camille. Thérèse responds that she will do anything in order to be with him. Laurent wakes Camille, and although Camille and Thérèse cannot swim, he proposes that they all rent a boat and row out to watch the sunset. Laurent rows out to the middle of the river and attacks Camille. In the struggle, Camille bites Laurent's neck, but is too weak to resist and is thrown overboard. Thérèse and Laurent, clutching each other, watch as Camille drowns.



The Raquin family home - eleven months later.


Eleven months later, Laurent, considered a hero for "saving" Thérèse, works to secure Madame's blessing for their marriage. Suzanne, Olivier, and Grivet support it and feel that Thérèse's misery can only be relieved by a good marriage. Madame, resistant at first, eventually agrees.


On her wedding morning, Thérèse wakes up screaming. Suzanne comes in to comfort her, urging her to have faith in God. After the wedding, Madame and Suzanne prepare the bedroom for the wedding night. Olivier and Grivet arrive and announce plans to serenade the happy couple. Later that night Thérèse enters the bedroom trembling. Madame tries to comfort her with memories of Camille's childhood.


Laurent arrives and tries to make love to Thérèse, but they are haunted by their crime. From the street, they hear Olivier and Grivet's serenade joined by the voice of the ghost of Camille. Frightened, they begin to argue and accuse each other.


A few weeks later, Madame is visited by Camille's ghost in her haberdashery. He relates the truth to her, and when she finally recognizes him, she screams and faints. Thérèse and Laurent rush in and find her unconscious. They speak of their regrets about having drowned Camille. Regaining consciousness, Madame overhears. Enraged, she accuses them of having murdered her son. She has a stroke and collapses.


Five months later, while his friends are playing dominoes, Laurent complains about how difficult it has been caring for Madame, who is seated among them, paralyzed and mute. Madame wakens suddenly and scrawls on a piece of paper, "Thérèse and Laurent are m ...." She loses strength and stops. The guests think she meant something complimentary and leave to let her rest. Thérèse and Laurent argue violently; finally, Laurent throws her to the floor and exits.


On the verge of insanity, Thérèse kneels before Madame, and confesses her affair with Laurent and begs for forgiveness. She begins to think that Madame is willing to pardon her. She takes a knife from the cupboard and hides it in her skirt. Laurent enters and puts poison in a glass of wine, which he offers to Thérèse...


Gene Scheer

PHOTO©2001 KEN HOWARD PLEASE CREDITMarried Parisian couple Thérèse and Camille Raquin are reunited with an old friend, Laurent. It soon becomes clear that Thérèse and Laurent are more than old friends as heated confessions of undying love abound between the two. The two conspire to murder the sickly Camille and succeed in dumping him into the Seine to make possible the consecration of their love. The guilty couple soon become the object of torment by both their own guilty consciences and the ghost of Camille.

The Wall Street Journal - Matthew Gurevitsch

"[Tobias Picker is] our finest composer for the lyric stage."


Opera Now Magazine - Chris Shull

"[Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin is] a meaningful opera infused with moments of searing reflection and luxurious sensuality." 


Chicago Tribune - John von Rhein

American composer Tobias Picker and his librettist, Gene Scheer, distilled the classic tragedy of Thérèse, a lonely young French woman who embarks on an extramarital affair that leads to murder, down to one of the more viable American opera of the last 15 years.   Picker deploys in Thérèse Raquin a stringent tonal harmony and a through-composed structure laced with declamatory vocal writing, bustling counterpoint, nervous rhythms and dissonances that pile up more aggressively as the dramatic tension mounts.  

Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Punch Shaw

"American opera in general, and the Dallas Opera in particular, took a proud step forward Friday night at Fair Park, Music Hall with the world premiere of Thérèse Raquin, a new work by American composer Tobias Picker based on the Emile Zola novel of that name.


"Thérèse [Raquin] is a superbly crafted stage work. It is filled with compelling music, gripping drama, and imaginative staging and special effects, and it features an excellent cast."



St. Petersburg Times - John Fleming

"When Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin was premiered by the Dallas Opera, it passed the most important test from a purely musical standpoint. Picker's opera created a sound world that could be mistaken for no other. Picker is among the most accomplished American opera composers of his generation...It was a coup for Dallas to produce Picker's latest work, and he stretched the audience with complex dissonances amid the high-flying arias and ensembles."



Opera Now Magazine - Chris Shull

"[Thérèse Raquin] was a thrill-ride from the start. Picker's music ricocheted between daunting dissonance and yearning tonality...


"Led by British mezzo-soprano Sara Fulgoni in the title role, the cast of Thérèse Raquin was packed with wonderful singing actors who kept pace with Francesca Zambello's upbeat direction and the full-bore vocal acrobatics demanded of Picker's score — requirements sometimes pushed to extremes by the composer's lush orchestration.


...a meaningful opera infused with moments of searing reflection and luxurious sensuality."



Die Welt - Volker Tarnow

"The music possesses a high level of entertainment."



Toronto Star

"Music traditionally yields the ability to be specific to an enhanced ability to make us feel emotion, and Picker's music is nothing if not emotionally charged...


"Broadly speaking, the composer has divided his two acts into a tonal and mostly consonant first act and, following the murder, a largely dissonant, contrapuntally turbulent second act. The design is not rigid. One of the opera's finest lyrical episodes, the heroine's aria "the white dove sat in the corner of the ark," appears in Act II. But the stylistic division does effectively reflect a fundamental darkening of tone in the lives of the characters."



Orpheus - Ursula Weiss

"The assiduously staged performance was brilliant both musically and scenically. A hand-picked, nearly ideal cast offered passionate and proficient singing in each and every role."



Opernglas - Stefan Mauss

"[Picker's] greatest accomplishments though were the ensemble scenes. Picker created extraordinary polyphonic images full of moods and character that reveal more about the persona in a few brief moments than in the solo or duet scenes. The trio with Madame Raquin, Thérèse and Suzanne was brilliant in every respect. The real showpiece, however, is undoubtedly the phenomenal septet."



The Independent - Annette Morreau

"[Thérèse] Raquin has some superficial similarities with Emmeline, but Picker's music over five years has developed significantly. The score is of far greater sweep and complexity, bound by plainly audible leitmotivs that frequently appear in varied guises. In Raquin, Picker confidently uses set-piece arias, duets, trios, and even a septet of busy fluency that, in its "domesticity", recalls Britten's Albert Herring. His music hovers between tonality and atonality, clearly conveying emotion and emotional change.


"The tenor Gordon Gietz., in the role of Camille...soars magnificently in Picker's high, elegant writing."



Financial Times (London) - Pierre Ruhe

"...Picker's driving score isn't tonally conservative...From the start, the orchestra, winningly conducted by Graeme Jenkins, is especially busy, chugging along relentlessly, tinged with dark forboding. Act Two describes the psychological unravelling of the couple, now married, as they're twisted by guilt. The murdered husband visits now and again. Here the music gets still edgier, more dissonant and relentless, with a gloomy, Gothic vitality. There's a lot of confidence in Picker's orchestral score, and he writes comfortably for the voice..."



L'Opera (Milan) and RevistaProOpera (Mexico City) - Christine Gransier

"...a marvelously dramatic opera...Picker's music features a continuous arioso style, with many moments of high lyricism and melodic beauty, colorful orchestration, and throbbing rhythmic interest. His palette of formal devices included orchestral interludes and a variety of vocal ensembles and solo scenes."



Albuquerque Journal - Joanne Sheehy Hoover

"The Dallas Opera caught the attention of the opera universe Friday night with its world premiere of Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin at the Fair Park Music Hall...This fertile material inspired an evening that, in its most intense moments, touched the burning emotional plane opera lovers crave and seldom get from contemporary composers.


"Librettist Gene Scheer has crafted a clean and swiftly moving two-act drama from the book... Picker turns these lines into equally fluid and flexible music that reflects an ever-growing mastery of the operatic form. The first act is something of a tour de force in its ceaseless rhythmic undercurrent. Throbbing like the river Seine, the steady, continuously moving bass line works subtly on the ear to pull the listener into the drama. The deceptive nature of the two central characters is enmeshedin a multilayered score whose rich complexities fall easily upon the ear. The orchestral interludes contain some of the opera's most expressive music, swelling with a near Wagnerian articulateness, exceptionally realized by conductor Graeme Jenkins...Picker has a strong feeling for characterization and theatrical pace. His handling of the second act, in particular Thérèse's final aria of near madness, reaches a gut-level intensity."



HispaOpera - Ramon Jacques

"The libretto is musical and the orchestration rich. The first act contains passages full of lyricism, pleasant tonality and melodies that evoke the exquisite musical language of Debussy, as well as late-20th century composers. Picker wrote the opera with character development in mind, reflecting that in each of his arias..."



Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel - Lawrence A. Johnson

"There are soaring vocal lines and smartly orchestrated passages, crafted with the American composer's typical polish and flair."



The Dallas Observer - Cynthia Greenwood

"Tobias Picker's suspenseful new opera is ready-made for the big screen...


"Picker's Thérèse Raquin deftly plots what can happen when an unhappily married woman commits adultery inside her mother-in-law's house. Thérèse's affair progresses from lurid sex to murder and ends with double suicide. With masterful staging in the style and pace of film noir, Picker and librettist Gene Scheer rely on renowned director Francesca Zambello's instinct for suspense and dazzling mise-en-scene.


"...the composer manages to paint [Thérèse] in vivid detail. Dissonant instrumental strains suggest her wild, desperate nature. Insistent melody from the orchestra pit ingeniously exposes her as a creature of desire run amok, capable of lust and hatred...Picker's dissonant, suspenseful score creates a dark mood reminiscent of how film noir directors use shadow to portend doom...music from the pit offers striking counterpoint to arias and ensembles.


"Picker's new work is full of the makings of good opera — solid performances, a salacious plot, carefully timed intrigue and a compelling score that offers a frightening portrait of Thérèse herself. Its realism is as disturbing as Hitchcock's best."



Dallas Morning News - Scott Cantrell

"Mr. Picker writes brightly and colorfully for the orchestra. The first act is mostly quite tonal, the second more jagged and dissonant (though even here Thérèse gets a hauntingly beautiful aria, The white dove sat in the corner of the ark)."



Andante.com - Wes Blomster

"In his new opera Tobias Picker tells a terrifying story succinctly — in only two hours of music — and with remarkable intensity...In the score the composer moves beyond the easy accessibility of Emmeline, premiered at the Santa Fe Opera in 1996. Although rooted in tonality, the music in Thérèse Raquin grows increasingly dissonant and more complex as guilt magnifies after the murder. Picker's command of counterpoint is oustanding in the first-act septet that intertwines the voices of the entire cast, while three further voices are added by the orchestra. Lyric arias and ensembles break the relentless drive of the work. He offers hints of Ravel and Debussy — along with a tongue-in-cheek homage to Gershwin's celebration of Paris.


"Picker's opera stands firmly on its own feet...Picker is quite successful in his use of motifs to pick the minds of his characters. The whole-tone figure that opens the score, for example, is later identified with murder. With Thérèse Raquin Picker, born in 1954, affirms his position as a top American composer of his generation."



On the Chandos CD of Thérèse Raquin:


Opera News - Joshua Rosenblum

MUSIC TO MURDER BY — Editor's Choice, November 2002

Tobias Picker creates a maximum-impact drama based on Emile Zola's novel of passion gone wrong.


"As composer Tobias Picker writes, Emile Zola's novel Thérèse Raquin "exudes 'opera' from every page," and indeed, it has inspired Picker to compose a marvelously effective new work. Picker has a sure command of, in his words, "the language (he) discovered in the space between tonal and non-tonal worlds." He, of course, is not alone in mining this territory, but he mines it especially well...


"Much of Act 1's score is frankly romantic but laced with a pulsing undertone of foreboding. Dissonance plays it's part; a rousing entreaty to begin a weekly domino game produces an unexpected burst of discord, and the run-up to the drowning of Camille is downright harrowing. Although it would be oversimplified to say that Act 1 is mostly tonal and Act 2 mostly atonal, there is a palpable change after intermission. (The murder is the Act 1 curtain) The opening music of Act 2 is virtually Webernian, signaling the upheaval the murder has only begun to cause.


"Soon Thérèse and Laurent experience what can only be called the worst wedding night in all of literary and theatrical history. Though Laurent begins by putting on a brave front ("My poor angel. Let me warm you. Why are you trembling?"), their lives are now completely dominated by the murder they committed. Acrid mutual recrimination commences immediately, culminating with the disembodied voice of Camille's ghost singing from offstage. The ghost's voice floats seamlessly and chillingly out of a wedding night "serenade" sung by two family friends, cheerily wishing the married couple "good night." The dead Camille's voice added to this tipsy but heartfelt toast is good, scary fun, and it is only a warm-up for his subsequent appearance onstage. When Thérèse ends the scene by singing "The sun is coming up. Our wedding night is over," it is as miserable an utterance as any I've heard in contemporary opera. The disintegration of the relationship continues through the remainder of the opera, chronicled scrupulously by penetrating and harshly descriptive music.


"Immediately after the wedding night, Camille's ghost appears before his mother and sings a superbly off-kilter aria ("Betrayed"), a motorically creepy, strangely lyrical combination of Stravinsky, Britten and Bernard Herrmann. Realizing that her son has been murdered by his wife and his best friend, Camille's poor old mother has a stroke and becomes paralyzed. Fortunately, Picker and Scheer were smart enough to retain the book's most nerve-racking scene, wherein the wheelchair-bound Madame Raquin (Diana Soviero) summons just enough strength during one of the weekly domino games to move a pen across a piece of paper, spelling out with excruciating slowness, as everyone watches,"ThÈrËse and Laurent are m....," but lapsing back into paralysis before she can complete the word "murderers."


"The Dallas Opera Orchestra under Graeme Jenkins thunders and pulses magnificently."



Billboard - Steve Smith

"No two ways about it: Contemporary American opera is enjoying something of a heyday on CD. An ever-increasing number of works by living composers are finding a home on disc both here and abroad...The distinguished British independent label Chandos (exclusively distributed in the U.S. by Port Washington, N.Y.-based Koch Entertainment Distribution) has made an increasingly important contribution to this overall wealth...by issuing the world-premiere recording of Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin.


"According to [Chandos' operations director/senior engineer Ralph ] Couzens' Chandos team took an immediate interest. "We listened to [Picker's] music, and we thought that, out of modern-day composers, he really had a lot to say," Couzens explains. "It wasn't just modern: There's a lot of depth in there, there was a lot of romanticism, there's a bit of everything."


"Couzens and his team captured Thérèse Raquin during four performances in November and December 2001. The resulting recording does both composer and opera company proud, while further strengthening a growing branch of the venerable British label's enterprising — and thoroughly international — musical roster."



Time Out New York - Danny Felsenfeld

"American composers have been writing innovative operas in every conceivable style for more than half a century, though the recording catalog has usually lagged far behind the overabundance of new works...[Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin's] music reflects and underscores the events in the libretto; after the crime takes place, the musical idiom changes completely. Gone are the arching harmonies and generous melodies that pervade the first act. The music becomes drained of life in the most powerful and effective way: it is less tonal, more angular and frightening. Picker's point is excellently made: having committed a brutal premeditated killing, who among us would be the same?


"Picker's opera, his second, is a breathtaking work, carefully and lovingly performed and recorded. The vocal performances are uniformly fine, and in the capable hands of the Dallas Opera Orchestra under Graeme Jenkins, the score shocks, seethes, spooks and subtly comments on the psychology of murder.Thérèse Raquin presents ample evidence that American opera is alive and well, and evokes a rich and discernible history rather than simply an imported European perfume."



Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Wayne Lee Gay

"American composer Tobias Picker and librettist Gene Scheer took on Emile Zola's gritty novel of lust and tragedy in 19th-century Paris on commission from the Dallas Opera; the result, which premiered in Dallas in November 2001, was unfailingly colorful, often lyrical and, ultimately, appropriately disturbing. Although nothing replaces live performance, this recording, edited from the four live performances at Fair Park Music Hall, shows off the cast and the opera handsomely — and makes the point that Thérèse Raquin may well have a permanent place in the repertoire."



The Independent (London) - Anna Picard

"Picker's second opera is a visceral affair, thickly layered with thematic development...The music for Madame Lisette, Thérèse, Laurent, and particularly Camille is well characterised and touching, the murders beautifully set up."



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Robert Croan

"Following this original cast recording with the libretto...turned out to be a pretty vivid theatrical experience in itself.


"Picker has the gift of finding just the right musical description of a specific situation. The solo moments are singable and convincing, and high-powered ensembles successfully depict the contrasting feelings of the diverse characters."

Dove Aria

for mezzo-soprano and piano


Ghost Aria

for tenor and piano


The Seine Moves Like A Melody

for tenor and piano


The Seine Moves Like A Melody

for bass voice and piano

Opera in Two Acts

Libretto (En) by Gene Scheer
Based on the novel by Émile Zola