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Thérèse Raquin

by tobias picker

Libretto by Gene Scheer, based on the novel by Émile Zola

Love surrenders to lust in this scandalous tale of primal appetites, embraced by a lavish, sensual score that mirrors the lovers’ turbulent affair. Thérése, bound by an unhappy marriage, falls deeply in love with an old friend, but romance turns to madness when they commit a crime that will haunt them forever. Join us for a deadly ménage a trois in what Opera Now calls “a meaningful opera infused with moments of searing reflection and luxurious sensuality."

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Tobias Picker, described by BBC Music Magazine as "displaying a distinctively soulful style that is one of the glories of the current musical scene," has had works commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the Helsinki Philharmonic. His first opera, Emmeline, saw its premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 1996, and his fourth opera, An American Tragedy, was commissioned by and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005. His adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Opera, and his Thérèse Raquin was commissioned by The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, and Opera de Montreal.

Mr. Picker has received numerous awards and prizes, including a Charles Ives Scholarship as well as a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and was elected in 2012 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has served as composer-in-residence of the Houston Symphony, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival. Picker’s symphonic music has been commissioned and performed by the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Picker’s first ballet, Awakenings, was toured across the UK at the hands of the Rambert Dance Company throughout the 2010/11 season. Dolores Claiborne, Picker's fifth opera, premiered at San Francisco Opera on September 15, 2013. Tobias Picker is currently the Artistic Director of The Opera San Antonio at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Tobias Picker’s music is published exclusively by Schott Music.


Mr. Scheer’s work is noted for its scope and versatility. With the composer Jake Heggie he has collaborated on a number of different projects, including the critically acclaimed 2010 Dallas Opera world premiere, Moby-Dick, starring Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab; Three Decembers (Houston Grand Opera), which starred Frederica von Stade; and the lyric drama To Hell and Back (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra), which featured Patti LuPone. Other works by Scheer and Heggie include Camille Claudel: Into the fire, a song cycle premiered by Joyce di Donato and the Alexander String Quartet. Mr. Scheer worked as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005. Their first opera, Thérèse Raquin, written for the Dallas Opera in 2001, was cited by Opera News as one of the ten best recordings of 2002. Other recent collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away, featured in Mr. Marsalis’s work Congo Square. With the composer Steven Stucky, Mr. Scheer wrote the oratorio August 4, 1964. The work, recently nominated for a Grammy, was premiered by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and last season was performed by the orchestra, with Japp von Sweeden conducting, at Carnegie Hall. Also a composer in his own right, Mr. Scheer has written a number of songs for singers such as Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn. The distinguished documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, prominently featured Mr. Scheer’s song “American Anthem” (as sung by Norah Jones) in his Emmy Award-winning World War II documentary for PBS entitled The War.

About the Novel, Thérèse Raquin

Zola's Thérèse Raquin (1867) is a story of lust, madness and destruction set within the dingy backstreets of Paris. The eponymous protagonist – a repressed and silently resentful young woman – is married off according to her aunt's wishes to her sickly cousin Camille. When Thérèse meets Camille's robust and earthy friend Laurent, a turbulent passion is unleashed that drives them ultimately to violence and murder.

In his preface to the second edition, Zola outlined the tenets of his naturalist approach to writing and defended his work against contemporary accusations of "putrid" obscenity. The novel, he claimed, is a kind of scientific study, recording the actions of "human animals" whose behaviour is entirely determined by "temperament" – a doctrine derived from the medieval idea of the four "humours." Laurent's "sanguine" disposition is opposed to Thérèse's "nervous" temperament; both disintegrate into neurosis.

Yet the novel goes far beyond outmoded psychological concepts. For all Zola's claims of authorial objectivity, what makes the work so striking is the inclusion of the uncanny and symbolic. The enigmatic cat François is a constant observer of the action and his "diabolical" gaze scrutinises the lovers as they descend through lust to hysteria and despair. Zola also invests the Seine with a sinister significance that heightens the claustrophobic atmosphere. Running murkily through every setting, it becomes the scene of murder, engulfing Camille and spewing him out on to the morgue slab as a "heap of decayed flesh… spotted with repulsive blotches, the feet were falling off."

Robin Buss's translation preserves the unflinching precision of Zola's prose. By merging elements of the gothic and tragic with a study of petit-bourgeois banality, Zola created a work of enduring fascination.


Married Parisian couple Thérèse and Camille Raquin are reunited with an old friend, Laurent. It soon becomes clear that Thérèse and Laurent are more than old friends as heated confessions of undying love abound between the two. The two conspire to murder the sickly Camille and succeed in dumping him into the Seine to make possible the consecration of their love. The guilty couple soon become the object of torment by both their own guilty consciences and the ghost of Camille.