Eléazar sings the heart-rending aria, Rachel, quand du Seigneur” in
Act IV of La Juive. The aria is considered the most gripping and
anticipated moment in the opera. Adolph Nourrit, the first tenor
to sing the part, urged the composer Halévy to write the
music for the aria and then Nourrit wrote the words. The aria has
become a showpiece for tenors, including Enrico Caruso who performed
it many times.
The aria comes at a pivotal moment in the opera. Because Eléazar’s
beloved daughter Rachel has broken a law that prohibited romantic
relationships between Jews and Christians, they have both been
condemned to death. The Cardinal Brogni has given Eléazar
a chance to save himself and his daughter from execution if he
renounces his faith and converts to Christianity. During the
7-minute aria, Eléazar struggles with his decision. His
emotions range from despair and compassion to revenge and hatred.
Alone in his cell and wrought with remorse, he is about to save
Rachel’s life by informing the Cardinal that she is actually
the Cardinal’s own daughter. But when Eléazar hears
the mob outside demanding his blood, his moment of weakness vanishes.
Revenge overwhelms him. Rachel will remain Jewish in everyone’s
eyes, and she will never be one of them. The music and the words
sink into the soul.
Here’s an excerpt
from the aria:
“Rachel, when the Lord entrusted
Your cradle to my hands
I pledged my entire life to your happiness,
And it is I who now deliver you to the executioner.
I hear a voice calling to me: I am young, I want to live,
Dear father, spare your child.
Oh Rachel, it is I, your loving father,
Who delivers you to the executioner.”