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Mirella Frena stars as Madame Sans Gene this week on The Lyric Stage

Umberto Giordano's Madame Sans Gene, or Madame Carefree, is based on the 1893 play of the same name by Victor Sardou, and this Sunday (4/16 at 8 pm) The Lyric Stage has the last half of Madame Sans Gêne.

In 1792, Caterina, Madame Carefree, is a free spirited laundress with a fiancé, LeFebre and customers that include a quiet officer who lives nearby named Napoleon Bonaparte.

Jump to 1811 - Caterina and LeFebre are married, and he has been named a Duke by Napoleon for his battlefield exploits. As our music begins Madame Carefree, Caterina, is as carefree as ever but scorned by the ladies of the court, including Napoleon's two sisters. She trips coming through doorways and is gauche and just unsuitable for Napoleon's court. She was laundress after all! Napoleon doesn't remember who she is, and tells her husband to divorce her - and coldly tells her she doesn't fit, in a scene that helps give the drama to this comedy drama. But Caterina starts to tell him about her early days as a laundress, and how she went out of business because her customers did not pay their debts, and presents Napoleon with a well worn bill showing he himself still owes her 60 Francs. He is very moved, but still wants Caterina to go away. But then the news that a man was seen entering Napoleon's wife's chambers infuriates him, and he condemns the man to death. The man is a friend of Caterina and her husband, so she goes to work and discovers her friend is visiting the empress not as a lover but to take letters to the empresses’ father - this subterfuge is to avoid the secret police reading the letters. Napoleon is relieved and forgives all, and is very impressed by Caterina's resourcefulness and intelligence. Napoleon lets her keep her place in the court after all, and in the last scene she appears on his arm on the way to the hunt.

Madame Sans-Gene premiered in 1915 at the Metropolitan in New York with Arturo Toscanini conducting a cast that included Geraldine Farrar, Giovanni Martinelli and Pasquale Amato. Umberto Giordano wrote it 19 years after Andrea Chenier, his best known work. Victor Sardou was a significant resource for opera composers - Giordano also used his play Fedora for an opera, and Puccini famously adapted Sardou's Tosca for his opera. The Sardou version of Madame Sans Gene has been made into numerous movies including one with Sophia Loren in 1961, and several of these are available to see on the internet.