Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint George contemplates aloud, shedding light on his most recent opus, “l’Amant Anonyme”, about to be performed for the honored guests of Madame de Montesson.
The composer steps into the lead role of Valcour while his contemporary and patron, Madame de Montesson, is given the role of Dorothée.
The performers arrange the sets in the fashion of the “Salon” performance and the play begins:
For years now, Valcour has been suffering from an unrequited love for the striking, young widow Léontine (aria: “Depuis longtemps” – “For a long time”). With the hand of his friend and confidant Ophémon, Valcour has been lavishing Léontine with gifts, flowers and love letters. All this he has done anonymously in an effort of self-preservation. Léontine was left devastated following her late husband’s death, and Valcour is convinced that she has no desire to spark a romance with someone new. He reveals to Ophémon that he feels his attempts to win the affections of Léontine have at last proved unavailing. Ophémon counters this sentiment, telling Valcour that it is imperative he lay bare his secret (duet: “Tant de constance, tant d’amour” – “Such constancy, such love”). Léontine unintentionally overhears the two going back and forth, discovering the truth about Valcour’s profound and maddening love for her.
Bologne is taken aback by the sight of Marie-Josephine de Montalambert playing the role of Léontine. His awe draws him away from the play briefly, but Madame de Montesson summons him back and the performance carries on.
Léontine, trying to veil any allusion to her discovery, goes to Valcour and asks him to settle a dispute she is having with Dorothée. Léontine has received a bouquet of flowers from the Anonymous Lover, along with a letter imploring her to carry the bouquet at a wedding later that day. According to the letter, the Anyonymous Lover will concede and cease his amorous pursuit, if she does not. Dorothée believes it would be harmless for Léontine to accept the flowers. Hoping to observe Valcour’s reaction, Léontine claims she does not want to hurt her secret admirer’s feelings, nor lead him on (aria: “Son amour, sa constance extreme” – “His love, his extreme constancy”). Dorothée seems surprised by Léontine’s odd behavior, while Valcour succeeds in convincing Léontine to carry the flowers.
Jeannette and Colin, the young couple about to be betrothed, arrive on the scene and express their gratitude towards Léontine for making their wedding possible (chorus: “Chantons, célébrons notre dame” – “Let us sing, let us celebrate our lady”). They invite their guests to revel with them in the love and joy of the moment (chanson: “Jouissez de l’allégresse” – “Enjoy the happiness”). Léontine is surprised, but this weddings seems to be one of the festivities the Anonymous Lover regularly organizes for her. The guests are eager to continue the wedding preparations as an infectious jubilance fills the air. Dorothée even improvises a special gift for the happy couple.
Dorothée, Léontine and Valcour find themselves alone for a brief moment as the wedding guests begin the festivities inside Léontine’s villa. Valcour teases Léontine that the Anonymous Lover might very well be closer than she thinks.
He persuades her to call out to her mysterious suitor and insist he reveal himself. When she obliges, Valcour crudely attempts to mock the situation, overdramatically declaring that it is in fact he who has been the tormented Anonymous Lover all along. Valcour’s “joke” evokes a tantalizing chuckle from Dorothée. But there seems to be a pivotal revelation at this moment. A glimpse of genuine transparency between Valcour and Léontine unnerves them both, and they feel “seen” by one another. Léontine is overwhelmed, even dizzy, and everyone’s efforts to help only exacerbate the incident.
Valcour and Ophémon nervously try to convince Léontine that it was all in jest, while Jeannette and Colin are sympathetic to Léontine’s palpable anguish (quintet: “Que de maux mon coeur ressent” – “My heart feels such pain”).
Interlude: We travel into the future and into reality, Marie-Josephine de Montalambert has received a poignant and melancholic letter from Joseph Bologne. Marie-Antoinette has been executed, The French Revolutionaries have won, Bologne mourn their son and lament about how much life has changed. We listen to the Largo of his concerto opus 8, numero 2 in G, composed after learning about the death of his baby boy.
Alone, Léontine is overcome with embarrassment. She laments that Valcour is unlikely to understand her feelings, though she longs to unburden her heart to him (recitative: “Enfin une foule importune” – “At last this unwelcome crowd”). Valcour impresses upon Ophémon to go to Léontine and tell her that he has spoken with the Anonymous Lover. Léontine pressures him for details, but Ophémon resists (duet: “Ah, finissez de grace” – “Ah, go on please”). Eventually, Ophémon concedes. He tells her how the Anonymous Lover agonizes over the impossibility that Léontine would love him, but that he wishes to reveal his identity anyway. (aria: “Aimer sans pouvoir le dire” – “To love without being able to admit it”) Léontine agrees to meet.
As she awaits the arrival of her not-so-anonymous lover, Léontine realizes that her heart is now full of passion, something she never expected. (ariette: “Du tendre amour” — “Such is the power of tender love”) Valcour arrives. Léotine tries everything to get him to confess his love for her, but Valcour maintains that his presence is a mere act of friendship and support. (duet: “Non, je ne puis rien entendre” — “No, I can’t listen anymore”) By now, Ophémon and Dorothée, accompanied by the whole village, are listening outside the door. At last, Léontine and Valcour surrender and profess their love for one another. Ignorant to the fact that Léontine has been aware of it for some time now, Valcour prepares to reveal himself as the Anonymous Lover (trio: “Ah, quel trouble” — “Ah, such confusion”). Before he has the chance, Léontine kisses him, and their powerful embrace puts an end to any uncertainties.
Léontine shares the joyous news with Dorothée, who had been hoping for this outcome all along with Ophémon. They all join Jeannette and Colin for what is now a double wedding (chorus: “Deux noces à la fois” — “Two weddings at once”). The two couples rejoice in happiness as song and dance ensue all around them (quartet: “Aimons-nous sans cesse” — “Let us love one another”).
Synopsis courtesy Los Angeles Opera & Minnesota Opera, written by Mark Lyons, with edits by Stage Director, Maria Todaro