La caravane du Caire

La caravane du Caire is an opera or opéra-ballet in three acts by André Grétry, set to a libretto by Étienne Morel de Chédeville. Tradition has it that either the libretto was partially written[1] or the idea of it was allegedly suggested[2] by the count of Provence, who would go down in history as Louis XVIII of France.

The opera was first performed at the Palace of Fontainebleau on 30 October 1783 and had its public premiere at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, the period venue of the Paris Opera, on 15 January 1784. It was the most successful of Grétry's large-scale works that are lighter in tone: it received over 500 performances at the Paris Opera up to 1829,[1] being billed every year between 1785 and 1791, and, except for 1818, between 1806 and 1828, besides enjoying further irregular stagings during the Revolutionary period.[2]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 30 October 1783[3]
(Conductor: – )
Osman, the Pasha of Egypt basse-taille (bass-baritone) Auguste-Athanase (Augustin) Chéron
Almaïde, the favourite of the Pasha soprano Mlle Joinville
Tamorin, the chief eunuch of the Seraglio haute-contre Jean-Joseph Rousseau [it][4]
Husca, the chief of the caravan and a slave trader baritone François Lays
Saint-Phar, a French slave haute-contre Étienne Lainez
Zélime, a slave woman soprano Marie-Thérèse Maillard
A French slave woman soprano Josèphe-Eulalie Audinot
An Italian slave woman soprano Mlle Buret
Two Hungarian women sopranos Anne-Marie Jeanne Gavaudan, l'ainée (the elder)
Adélaïde Gavaudan, cadette (the younger)
Florestan, a ship's captain basse-taille (bass-baritone) Henri Larrivée
Furville, a French officer baritone Louis-Claude-Armand Chardin, called "Chardiny"
Osmin, a Seraglio gard basse-taille (bass-baritone) M Moreau
Seraglio sultanas sopranos Gertrude Girardin, Marie-Anne Thaunat,
Mlles Josephine, Rosalie
Chorus: People of different nations, i. e. free voyagers, slaves and Arabs (act I), women and retinue of the Seraglio (acts II–III)


Act 1Edit

A caravan is heading to Cairo. Among the travellers are the slave dealer Husca and his slaves Zélime and her husband Saint-Phar. Husca hopes that the beautiful Zélime will fetch a good price on the market. When a band of Arabs attacks the caravan, Saint-Phar offers to help Husca fight them off in return for his freedom. They drive off the Arabs and Husca releases Saint-Phar from slavery but refuses to do the same for Zélime.

Act 2Edit

In his palace in Cairo the Pasha is sunk in gloom. Nevertheless, he is keen to celebrate the heroism of Florestan, a Frenchman who saved his treasure ship during a storm. The Pasha's wife Almaïde tries to cheer up her husband with a dance by the women of the harem. Husca and the chief eunuch Tamorin have another idea for improving the Pasha's mood: he should buy himself a new European slave girl or two. They go to the bazaar where they watch a Frenchwoman playing the harp, an Italian singing a virtuoso aria, a German performing a folk song, and dances from Georgians and Indians. But the Pasha is smitten at the sight of Zélime and buys her for his harem. Saint-Phar vows to rescue her.

Act 3Edit

While waiting for the celebrations, Florestan laments the loss of his son at sea. Osmin tells Almaïde of a plot by a Frenchman to free Zélime from the harem. Eager to get rid of her new rival, she urges Osmin to give him every help necessary. Florestan thanks the Pasha for his hospitable treatment and prepares to depart. When news comes of the attempted abduction of Zélime, Florestan is outraged to hear that the culprit is a Frenchman. However, it turns out that Saint-Phar is Florestan's lost son. The Pasha relents and frees Saint-Phar and Zélime, allowing the family to be reunited.


  • La caravane du Caire, Ricercar Academy, Choeur de Chambre de Namur, conducted by Marc Minkowski (2 CDS, Ricercar, 1992; re-released July 2008 together with extracts from Le jugement de Midas conducted by Gustav Leonhardt).
  • La caravane du Caire, Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Les Agrémens, conducted by Guy Van Waas (2 CDs, Ricercar, 2014)


  1. ^ a b Charlton.
  2. ^ a b Pitou, p. 95.
  3. ^ According to the original libretto.
  4. ^ Sources traditionally report only the initial letter (J.) of this singer's name; full details, however, can be found in Organico dei fratelli a talento della Loggia parigina di Saint-Jean d'Écosse du Contrat Social (1773–89) (list of the members of this Masonic lodge), reported as an Appendix in Zeffiro Ciuffoletti and Sergio Moravia (eds.): La Massoneria. La storia, gli uomini, le idee. Mondadori, Milan 2004, ISBN 978-8804536468 (in Italian).


Period sourcesEdit

  • Original libretto: La Caravane du Caire, opéra en trois actes, representé à Fontainebleau devant Leurs Majestés, le 30 Octobre 1783, et pour la premiere fois, sur le Théâtre de l'Academie-Royale de Musique, le Mardi 13 Janvier 1784. De Lormel, Paris 1784 (accessible online at Google Books).
  • Period printed score: La Caravane du Caire, opéra ballet en trois actes. Représenté à Fontainebleau devant leurs Majestés le 30 Octobre 1783. Et pour la premiere fois sur le Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique le Lundi 12 Janvier 1784. Huguet, Paris 1784 (accessible online at Gallica).

Modern sourcesEdit

  • David Charlton: "La caravane du Caire", in: Grove Music Online, ed L. Macy (accessed 10 May 2007;, subscription access).
  • Spire Pitou (1985). The Paris Opera: An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers. Rococo and Romantic, 1715-1815. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313243943.