An opera in three acts by Dino Borlone
Music by Giancarlo Colombini


In 1885, Emil Zola’s masterpiece “GERMINAL” was published: it focused on the theme of the fight between employers and the working class, and described the “seed” of revolt which “by growing, in the future, would soon overturn humanity’s life”.
The story is set in late-19th-century French coalmines.

The libretto of the opera “GERMINAL” is freely drawn from the novel. It describes the various characters and the main events by using an almost cinematographic sequence of flashbacks.

In the pits and in the villages, survival is hard, dramatic. The exhausting working shifts in shafts dug out at hundreds metres in the bowels of the earth, the threat of gas leaks, the floods, the unbearable heat, the landslides: they all keep causing deaths among men and women who are worn out by hard work, hunger and diseases.

Coal is in the skin and in the lungs of the miners, who are obliged to work for little money, without any hope for their own children. Life at home is led in promiscuity, with no hygiene, no decency, no shame, both during the day and at night.

CATHERINE is 15 – her nature as a young girl, worn out by years of hardships and brutalized by hard work, is subjugated, dominated by Chaval’s arrogance. She lives with her parents and her siblings. As everyone else, she works in the pits from dawn to night.
When Etienne arrives in the village looking for work, he is immediately employed to replace the victim of a landslide and finds accommodation in MAHEU’S home. Maheu is Catherine and Jeanlin’s father, and Maheu’s father, Bonnemort, lives with them, too.

ETIENNE is a strong young man and works as a shoveller, but he does not accept to undergo the brutality and exploitation enforced by the “Company” that owns the pits.
He is planning recovery and rebellion.
He decides to organize a strike declared by the majority of the miners.
Weeks, months go by, but the Company does not give in.
Hunger is undermining the miners’ resistance – some want to go back to work.
Etienne stands up to this with all his energy… “tell workmates”…
Rasseneur, the village innkeeper, a former miner who has already experienced a tragic end to other strikes, demands a truce, as he fears the Police may intervene.
No one listens to him – the fight goes on.
Blacklegs are prevented from going down the pits by force.
The Police intervene – the strikers throw stones – many are wounded.
After one last order to withdraw, the Police open fire on the crowd.
At the end of the shooting there are dead bodies all over the place.
Maheu dies. Etienne survives.

CHAVAL is a brutal, aggressive young miner. He is Catherine’s lover and exploiter – he humiliates, blackmails, abuses and beats her. He is jealous of Etienne: he hates and envies him because of the power he has on all the miners.

ETIENNE and CATHERINE live in the same house and work together, but the exhaustion and degradation caused by every day’s hard work and Cheval’s obtrusive, violent presence, prevent the two youngsters from admitting their reciprocal love.

SUVARIN is a Russian exile, a nihilist, an anarchist, and a revolutionary. Due to an attack, he lost his woman in Russia… “Have I told you how she died?”… - He thinks the strike is useless stupidity: “We must destroy everything – fire and blood!”
He will cause the disaster by damaging the supporting structure of the pit.
The shafts and galleries are flooded and collapse.
He watches the massacre of his workmates impassively.

BONNEMORT is Maheu’s father – he is 58 but looks much older. He is called like that because he has been saved three times from fire, landslides and flooding at the last moment. At 8 years old he already worked in the pits after his father had died in a landslide.
Just like everyone else, he has a shaking cough – he spits coal.
He is semi-paralyzed and has lost control over his mind.

The GREGOIRES are employers, pit owners. During the strike they try to offer relief to those who are starving most. They go to Maheu’s house with their daughter Cecile. The girl is left alone for a moment with Bonnenmort who, with a sudden, absurd gesture, grabs her by the neck and kills her. 
Zola defines this an act of “idiotic” violence, yet it is the expression of the moral collapse, physical and mental degradation and hate into which human beings were thrown in those living conditions.

The opera starts and ends inside a pit shaft, after Suvarin’s attack. The landslide traps Etienne and Catherine – they are isolated, alone, in the dark and cold, flooded. The noises of the rescue operations cannot be heard anymore. They have lost all hope of surviving.

At the beginning of the opera Etienne tries to comfort and warm up Catherine, who is shivering from cold and fear… “Now you look like a baby hedgehog to me”.

In the finale they are still there, now extremely weak.
Catherine, feverish, is tormented by a need for words, gestures. She is delirious, she feels as if she were outside, in a wheat field, on a sunny day… “Can’t you smell the air now?” … Hold my hand, let’s be together, forever. – “Etienne I love you! – Take me, take me!”. Also Etienne loses his sense of reality, his mind is failing. He nestles against her endearingly.
Catherine falls into his arms.
Hard beating on the rocks is heard.
The scene is flooded with light.
The rescuers run towards Etienne and Catherine.
Two men hold Etienne up, another two pick up Catherine’s corpse.


Libretto "Germinal" in pdf format


Brani eseguiti al pianoforte dal M° Giancarlo Colombini

(si consiglia l'uso del plug-in Quick Time scaricabile da quì)