The Woman of Samaria
(La Samaritaine) Évangile en trois tableaux (A Gospel story in three tableaux)
Now translated into English for Genge Press by Sue Lloyd and Philippa Gerry
La Samaritaine 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. She commissioned another play, this time with a religious theme, as it was to be performed at Easter. The play would be in three ‘tableaux’ rather than in three acts, because this was to be a visual as well as a poetic and dramatic experience.
A new English translation has now been published by Genge Press along with The Last Night of Don Juan in one volume entitled Sacred and Profane Love!
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 gave the name of Photine to the Samaritan woman. He 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 invented the action in the second tableau, where Photine persuades the townsfolk to come with her to see the Messiah. But all the teaching of Jesus which she so lyrically expresses is taken directly from the gospels. This is an inspiring and moving play, which Genge Press is delighted to now be able to offer in a new English version.
Rostand stresses three aspects of Jesus’s teaching in this play: the spiritual nature of true worship; the
Auguste Mucha’s poster 1897
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.
Sarah Bernhardt in La Samaritaine (8 May 1897)
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 excellent 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 and was later broadcast on France-Musique (May 1955, August 2000).
The Woman of Samaria is also available on its own as a Kindle edition.
Critical Review of Sacred and Profane Love
Francis Phillips warmly reviewed Sacred and Profane Love in her
book review for the Catholic 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”.
Our English version of La Samaritaine: The Woman of Samaria is now available in paperback, along with The Last Night of 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, including postage and packing in the UK.
Performance rights are available from the Genge Press, firstname.lastname@example.org.