Gustaaf Francies de Pauw - Bellida

bellidaGustaaf Francies de Pauw:

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Performance history

1897, January 17, Bonbonnière, Maastricht (world premiere)
1897 Subsequent performances in o.a. Amsterdam

2003, December 3, Opera Romana, Timisoara (modern time premiere)
Nicoleta Colceiar (Bellida), Florin Belean (Bertino), Aura Twarowska (Giusta), Giorgio Nemeti (Lorenzo), Dan Pataca (Luigi), Suzana Vulpe (girl), Mircea Dan Petcu (guard), Mugurel Chirila (messenger), Opera Romana Timisoara – Ladislau Rooth
2004, Sunday, January 4, Vrijthof, Maastricht (Released on CD, CD highlights, MP3, MP4 video download)
2004, January 10, De Maagd, Bergen Op Zoom
2004, January 18, Oostburg
2004, January 30, Munttheater, Weert

Gustaaf Francies de Pauw


Meewis-RoothThe rediscovery of the score of Francies Gustaaf de Pauw’s opera Bellida is entirely to the credit of theatre and opera director Frans Meewis. He first discovered the mere title in the context of his participation in the production of a 1986 book on the history of 200 years Bonbonnière theatre in Maastricht, which brought a photo of the 1897 world premiere to his attention. Meewis: ‘That picture intrigued me to the point that I started looking into the opera, but initially I couldn’t find anything. Both information and any sign of the score were lacking.’ It wasn’t until coincidence brought him in contact with the grandson of De Pauw that his interest was stirred again. Meewis:

bellidaGustaaf Francies de Pauw:

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‘Naturally we also discussed Bellida and the grandson then told me that he had the score on his attic! This proved correct when I visited him, and I even found there a French/Dutch libretto. Unfortunately there was no master score and no piano reduction. All hand written parts I have then given in judgment to conductor Laszlo Rooth, who responded very positively. He thought it contained interesting, even surprisingly good music. With the help of general manager Corneliu Murgu of the Timisoara Opera in Romania we managed to execute some excerpts as test. We did this there because within the context of the Foundation Bérenger we had worked with them previously, among others on the performance of the Sutermeister/Ionescu opera Bérenger le Roi. The test was a success and the Opera Romana offered to take the opera in production. Next we started reconstructing the score. Laszlo Rooth made the piano reduction and straightened all the handwritten parts into a score that was ready to go. Geta Medinschi then designed attractive, romantic costumes which fit both very well in the time frame as that they fit in Traian Zamfirescu stage design, which is base don picture books of the days of ere. Choreographer Hellen Ganser designed the ballets and dances in Bellida. Thus, Bellida emerged as a rediscovered page from the picture book of operatic history, and we managed to get is staged in Timisora as well as in various locations in The Netherlands.’



The plot is situated in Northern Italy, around 1800. The rich and ambitious castle lord Bertino wants to climb the ranks of nobility by marrying his daughter Giusta off to the poor but high nobleman Lorenzo. The latter however loves Bellida, an orphan that Bertino accepted in his house following the death of her parents. Regardless, Bertino forces Lorenzo into the marriage by exploiting his financial problems. Bertino’s lieutenant Luigi plays a doubtful role in it, since he is entrusted with the task to discredit Lorenzo and increase his problems. In turn, Bertino promised the infatuated Luigi Giusta’s hand, and when things come together he sends Luigi off on a mission to America, hoping the marriage is effectuated before his lieutenant returns. Lorenzo in turn tries to escape the forced marriage by enlisting the army. He hopes to be killed on the battlefield. The opera begins when Luigi return sooner than expected, while Lorenzo returns very much alive, sine his regiment won the battle.

Act I

Bertino awaits the news from the battlefield in a monologue ‘Ah, pour mon pauvre coeur le temps passe trop lentement…’ (How slow time passes by for those who worry).

A servant announces that Lorenzo has won the war. All celebrates the victorious soldiers, yet Lorenzo is utterly sad, lamenting his unwanted marriage prospects in ‘Peuple insensé, ignorant mon douleur’ (Ignorant people, you do not know my suffering). He loves someone else:

bellidaGustaaf Francies de Pauw:

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‘Dans l’angoisse de la souffrance
Le désespoir me stimulait.
Feindre l’amour… mon coeur s’y oppose:
Une autre femme possédait
Dans son amour ma vie repose.

(’Only out of misery I agreed to this wedding,
But i can’t feign love for Giusta,
For one only does my heart palpitate
Her love for me is all.’)

Bellida03Act1The disappointed Bertino tries to force Lorenzo to keep his promise, and the tenor has some larmoyant, desperate lines in a style close to Massenet’s, which are among the highlights of the score.

Meanwhile Giusta is looking forward to the marriage and she chitchats abundantly with her girlfriends about her prospects. Her friends celebrate her in the chorus:

‘L’aube riante vien d’éclore!
Giusta voilà de ta fête le jour,
Aux sons joyeux des cloches sonores
Chantons l’hymne de l’amour.’

('The morning radiates,
Of Giusta’s celebration,
Let the bells ring,
And let the happy ones chant

Bellida then laments her fate in ‘Ah, cessez donc, car le destin sécère, de mystères, est tout rempli’ (Ah, not too fast, life’s ways can be a mystery…’).

Overhearing her, Bertino realizes that it is Bellida who stands in his way! She is the love of Lorenzo, who precisely then launches into a serenade:

bellidaGustaaf Francies de Pauw:

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‘Le mai sur la charmille
Sème ses mille fleurs,
Plus belle la fleur qui brille
Eclose dans ton coeur’

(‘Oh seductive Mai,
Reveal your splendors
In colorful flowers,
The most beautiful one’s perfume
Rises from your heart.’)

When Giusta hears Lorenzo’s serenade, her heart palpitates, yet Bertino quickly sends her off since he knows exactly for whom that serenade is intended.

Act II

bellida05Act2prairiechorusIn an attempt to get his way, Bertino expels Bellida from his castle. Luigi and his friends then arrive to sing of their American adventures:

‘Ah. La belle vie
Du cow-boy joyeux!
Immense prairie
Séjour perilleux!
Les dangers menacent
Le chasseur errrant,
Quand les lezzos tracent
Leurs sillons siflants. – Hallo!

('Great is the life
Of the cow-boy free!
There’s no money to repay
For the wonders of the prairies …’

bellida04Act1BellidaMeanwhile Bellida laments her fate in the bel canto aria ‘Où donc, aller, mon Dieu?’ (O God, where to go?; an aria that begins à la Bellini, then echoes ‘Come in quest’ora bruna’ from Simon Boccanegra, while ending in the atmosphere of Massenet):

bellidaGustaaf Francies de Pauw:

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'Doux séjour de mon enfance,
Lieux charments de mes amours,
Bis où le doux nid balance
Ah, adieu, c’est pour toujours…’

(‘Oh garden of my youth’s delights,
Quite haven that I loved so much…’)

Bellida encounters Luigi and recalls her perils. Together they realize the machinations of Bertino. Luigi swears revenge while Bellida tries to calm him down. Lorenzo appears. Bellida scolds him while Lorenzo attempts to explain how he was forced to accept Giusta’s hand. The final result is a passionate duet that unites the musical worlds of Gounod, Massenet ánd Verdi alike! The outcome of the duet is that they plan to flee together.


  • bellidaSlide01
  • BellidaSlide02
  • BellidaSlide3
  • Bellida Act III: opening scene
  • Bellida Act III: Confrontation scene
  • Bellida Act III: Death of Luigi

For the modern time production of this Grand Opéra in Deux Actes, the longer second Act was split up in a Second and Third Act.

Boys and girls practice a dance in honor of Giusta (added as an introduction to the Act III score by Rooth, on original music of De Pauw). The attempt of Lorenzo and Bellida to escape has failed, and they brought before Bertino. Apart from scolding them in a grandiose confrontation scene (strongly influenced by the paris version of Verdi’s Don Carlo), Bertino also tries to evoke pity in their hearts for the poor Giusta.

This works with Bellida, who declares to renounce on Lorenza, which is mucha ginst what he himself wants. When the wedding guests arrive, they are surprised to see everyone in tears. When Giusta sees Lorenzo and Bellida hand in hand, her world collapses. And when Luigi reveals the truth behind her marriage, Bertino stabs him to death and flees the scene, leaving all behind in shock. Luigi dies in the arms of his beloved Giusta, with her name on his lips: ‘Oh Dieu, je meurs… Giusta, a toi mon coeur!’ (‘Oh God, I die… for you Giusta, I give my heart’). Giusta implores God’s mercy for Luigi’s soul and for the happiness of Lorenzo and Bellida:

bellidaGustaaf Francies de Pauw:

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‘Seigneur, que de vivre
La mort me délivre,
Mais non, o Puissance,
J’offre à tes courroux
Ma jeune innocence.’

('O God, let me die,
Too heavy is my life,
Please no, hear my prayer,
I offer myself to you…’


BellidaHistoricalIn his rather ambitious grand scale composition, composition Gustaaf Francies de Pauw drew largely, perhaps even entirely from textbook examples of great opera’s between, say, La sonnambula to Mignon (where the title role is likewise reserved for an orphan), Tannhäuser (his overture), Gounod (apart from certain atmospheric similarities the strong focus on an array of binding choruses draws back on Gounod, not so much n Faust, but seemingly more on Mireille), Massenet (especially in the orchestration), and, most surprisingly, Verdi (in Bellida’s Act II grand air and in the entire third act, which is clearly based on grand opéra models between Meyerbeer and Verdi’s Don Carlo. At the same time De Pauw avoided clear plagiarism, and managed to create an amalgam that balances this wide variety of styles and epochs into a work that has a unified, even individual texture. Likewise his melodies are textbook examples of things we are familiar with, although one can rarely say that specific tunes and/or effects were used as the model (except, as pointed out elsewhere, in the overture, Bellida’s grand air and some musical effects in the Act III confrontation scene). Thus, De Pauw’s melodic arias and duets as well as his outstanding orchestration testify to an outstanding craftsmanship. Bellida confines his status as Limburg’s leading composer during his days there and is a unique sample of opera in the Dutch provinces, which thrived the non a much larger scale than is remembered today, both due to the lack of research as well as to the fact that many of these local scores are now to be considered ‘lost’.

The weakest point of the opera is the cliché libretto with a most absurd ending, with Bertino’s stabbing Luigi, where all seemed to point at a reconciliation scene with the lovebirds marrying, Giusta ending up wit Luigi, and daddy giving up his vanity in favor of his children.

Bellida proved a short lived but well deserved success at the time, which can now again be enjoyed thanks to the Bérenger Foundation. Not only did they choose to revive the work in 2004, but they also managed to realize a production that was both filmed and recorded. At 401DutchOperas we are truly proud to revive this 2004 revival in sound & vision online, making for the first time ever available both the integral audio version of the opera and the video registration as downloads. Bellida remains today as a unique testimony of operatic life in the South of the Netherlands at the end of the 19th Century. This not in a semi-amateur production as is often the case with such provincial works, but rather in a well rehearsed revival by the fine fleur of the Opera Romana in Timisora, Romania!

The performance

Bellida01castPer the 2004 reviews from The Netherlands, Germany and Romania, the strong point in the performance of the Opera Romana ensemble was the outstanding choir which brought De Pauw’s music to life. While De Pauw’s experience as a choir director perhaps made the choral parts the most original and inspired sections of his opera, they are certainly the cornerstones of the work. Gergely Nemeti (Lorenzo) was singled out as a powerful tenor, while soprano Nicoleta Colceiar (Bellida) and mezzo-soprano Aura Twarovska (Giusta) were also singled out. I read nothing of Florin Belean (Bertino), perhaps due to his ungrateful role, but I found Belean rather convincing in both the video and the audio recording. Certainly, there were a few extreme notes that were on the edge for tenor and mezzo, which mostly testifies to the ambitions that De Pauw poured into this fascinating rarity.

Frans Meewis was credited for the original idea to tell the story in the framework of a picture book, which formed the decor. All starts with e random girl, Suzanna Vulpe, who discovers the book of Bellida in a rusty attic, turning page after page along with the scenes. Being also an excellent ballerina, she acts like a red wire linking the opera in terms of direction, while at the same time leaving the time frame in which the action is set unharmed. Thus we get a traditional setting within a modern storybook framework that from a scenic point of view has particular fine moments in the choir scenes and the ballets.

Gustaaf Francies de Pauw

bellida02DePauwGustaaf Francies de Pauw (1867-1943) was born in Oostburg, Zeeuws Vlaanderen, Netherlands. His father made watches and had a jewelry shop. Due to his musicality he conducted various musical ensembles, in addition to which he also composed and it was from him that young Gustaaf received his first musical lessons. The gifted pupil eventually enrolled the Ghent Conservatory, where he studied trombone playing and conducting.

At the age of 18 De Pauw was drafted for compulsory military service, and he was stationed in the city of Maastricht. There he became trombone player in the 2nd infantry regiment. In between his military obligations, such as the Sunday’s concert in het Vrijthof there, he continued his musical studies in Aken and Antwerp. Post his military service time, he remained in Maastricht where he settled as teacher of music, conductor and composer. In 1896 he married the mezzo-soprano Charlotte Berlée, who would become the creator of Giusta in his romantic opera Bellida, premiered in Maastricht a year after their marriage, in 1897.

His friend J.M. Heijnens from Meerssen wrote both the Dutch and the French language libretto. De Pauw scored a tremendous success with Bellida, which post Maastricht was also performed, among others, in Amsterdam. De Pauw became a household name in Maastricht and surroundings a choir conductor, conductor of various harmony and fanfare orchestra, as well as a composer and music publisher. He wrote more than 1200 compositions: operettas, miracle plays, songs, cantatas, much music also for hafa-orchestras, and finally, in his later years, also much religious music (often on texts by J.M. Heijnens). Bellida remained his only opera

De Pauw was an authority, a principal person, admired as a conductor, respected as a composer and feared as a juror in various competitions. He was diligent and modest, yet he left a significant impact on the musical life in Maastricht during his years there, which came to an end only with his death in 1943, at the age of 76t.