Shows B

ACT II HELEN’S QUARTERS. Her attendants show her some marvellous gowns for the grand soirée for the kings. Marvellous, but revealing. Helen declines them; she would like something to ‘hide my grace and beauty’ so as to make it easier to resist falling in love with Paris. Better still, when he is announced, she tells her attendant Bacchis to ask him to wait, and retires for a moment to contemplate the portrait of her parents. After an invocation to Venus, who delights in ‘bringing about the downfall of virtue’, Helen feels better and has Paris shown in. When she resists him, despite his attempts at the two usual ways of seducing a woman, he leaves her, promising her there’s a Third Way: ‘by cunning’. The Kings enter, engrossed in their favourite pastime, the Great Goose Game, in the course of which Calchas is caught with his hand in the till: ‘The Grand Augur is cheating’. The desperate Helen has had the number of slaves guarding her chamber doubled. She asks Calchas for a private audience. She will not go to the dinner: she fears her own weakness and is afraid of seeing Paris again. Only solitude and sleep will be her allies. She asks Calchas for a dream, ‘a sweet dream in which I see him, this Paris I’m running away from, this Paris I adore’. The queen falls asleep, a slave enters the chamber; it is Paris in disguise. Since it’s ‘Fate’, Calchas leaves him alone, taking Bacchis to dinner. Enchanted by Helen, Paris quivers with passion, and when the beauty awakens and sees him she thinks she is still dreaming – the dream which Calchas promised her... The love duet which followsis not taboo, because ‘it’s only a dream’! Alas, Menelaus, returning inopportunely from Crete, interrupts the sweet dream of love and, mad with rage, has the other kings brought in. In vain do they tell him a husband just doesn’t come back home without warning; he won’t listen. To calm him down, Agamemnon sends ‘the vile seducer’ back to Troy. But Paris threatens to come back, since ‘Every shepherd must have his day’. ACT III A BEACH AT NAUPLIA. Venus has had her revenge, putting the people of Greece in the grip of an erotic mania. ‘Husbands are leaving their wives, wives are leaving their husbands’ and those who do not agree can only go off to Leucadia and throw themselves over a cliff. Agamemnon and Calchas, embarrassed and freezing in their bathing costumes, are devastated. Enter Helen. She had come to this beach ‘out of season’ to look for peace and has grown heartily sick of the question Menelaus continually asks: why did she say ‘it was only a dream’? Helen issues a threat of something even worse: ‘I’ll make you cry over the real thing.’ Agamemnon and Calchas, seeing that Menelaus ‘gives not a fig for his country’s woes’, say he should forget about being a husband and attend to being a king. The orgy must be stopped, Menelaus must ‘sacrifice himself and give up his wife, humbly accepting the decree of the gods. Menelaus refuses; he has a better idea. Despite Calchas’s tantrums, he announces the arrival of a parallel augur, the Grand Augur of Venus, who is from Cythera. The disguised Paris (for it is he!) now puts in to shore unrecognised, aboard a flower-decked galley. He first demands some jollity in their reception, then the sacrifice of a hundred white heifers, and finally the departure of Helen on a little voyage ‘to a very pretty little island... Cythera!’. Menelaus agrees: it’s not much to ask. Helen recognises Paris, she ‘resists’, and only finally goes on board the galley which ‘is leaving for Cythera’ when everyone says she must. Once away from the shore, the Grand Augur reveals his identity. It is Paris; he is carrying Helen off. Now she is his. MUSICAL NUMBERS: OVERTURE PROLOGUE (Venus, Juno, Minerva, Paris and Mercury) ACT I OPENING ACT I (Leona, Cressida, Calchus, Philocomus and Ensemble) “OH! ADONIS!” (Helen and her Attendants)