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The Woman of Samaria (La Samaritaine, Évangile en trois tableaux, en vers )

This new prose translation by Philippa Gerry and Sue Lloyd is as yet unpublished; PDF or hard copy available on request. Contact us for performing rights.

The translators have aimed to convey as much as possible of the beauty of Rostand’s verse in the lyrical passages, while keeping to a modern idiom in the more conversational scenes.

This play has previously been translated into (now dated) English rhymed verse by Mrs Henderson Dangerfield Norman as The Woman of Samaria (Collected Plays of Edmond Rostand, vol. 1 (New York & London: Macmillan, 1921; Bibibliolife 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. This opera was broadcast on France-Musique in May 1955 and again in August 2000.

How and why the play was written

La Samaritaine was written in 1897 for the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt and first performed in Paris on 14th April that year. 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. Rostand’s stage career had begun in 1894, when Les Romanesques, a play in verse, like all his plays, had been well-received at the Comédie Française. Sarah, now in her fifties, was looking for poetical works of just the kind Rostand wanted to write, and agreed to put on Rostand’s La Princesse lointaine in 1895. This dreamy and poetic play pleased the first-night audience but not the critics, and closed earlier than planned. But 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.

When reading Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jesus (published in 1863) some years earlier, Rostand had felt that Jesus’s conversion of the woman of Samaria would make a good play. And the role of courtesan would not be a new one for Sarah, famous for her role as “La Dame aux Camélias” in the younger Dumas’s eponymous play. Rostand gave the woman the name Photine but otherwise kept closely to the story as 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 had to invent a whole second act showing how she returns to the town and persuades the people there to come and see Jesus. But all Jesus’s teaching in the play 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 respect for 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. The translators believe that modern audiences, too, will respond to this gentle and moving play, which is as relevant today as when it was first performed. Performance rights are available from the Genge Press, gengepress@aol.com.

 


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