Saint François d’Assise (St Francis of Assisi)
  • Olivier Messiaen. Opéra in three acts. 1983.
  • Libretto by the composer.
  • First performance at the Paris Opéra on 28th November 1983.

The scenes of the opera centre on various features of the life of St Francis. In the first act he preaches the acceptance of suffering, sings verses from his praises of all creatures and kisses and cures a leprous beggar. The second act brings the visit of an angel, demanding answers to questions of predestination, playing sweet music to the saint, who, in a further scene, preaches to the birds. In the third act St Francis receives the stigmata and prays as he dies, to meet a triumphant musical resurrection.

With a large orchestra and an even larger chorus, Messiaen’s opera suggests the medieval in its modal writing, presenting a series of tableaux, isolated incidents from the religious life of the saint, and making full use of the various techniques Messiaen had at his disposal, with birdsong making its appearance in the final scene of farewell to the world.