Extremely rare First Edition "L'Africaine" (The African Maid, 1866) -- Grand Opera in Five Acts (25 pages), Ditson & Co. Standard Opera Libretto, composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer, English and Italian. Chief characters: Vasco di Gama (officer in Portuguese Navy), Selika (slave), Inez (daughter of Don Diego), Don Pedro (Chief Minister, President's Council) and Nelusko (slave).
-- The action takes place first in Portugal and after in Africa, the period being towards the end of the fifteenth century. Inez, daughter of the King of Portugal, is affianced to the great explorer, Vasco di Gama; and on the opening of the opera she is bewailing his long absence from her side. Her royal father wishes her to forget the explorer, declaring that he must now be dead, since nothing has been heard of him for so long a time; and he expresses his wish that she should marry his chief minister, Don Pedro, who is in love with her. Inez, however, declares she will remain faithful to her lover; and she is presently overjoyed by the sudden appearance of Vasco di Gama, who has just returned. He brings news of a new and wonderful country he has discovered, and produces two of the inhabitants, a male and a female, Nelusko and Selika, whom he has captured and brought away as slaves. The King of Portugal, however, is not pleased at the reappearance of Vasco, and so causes doubt to be thrown upon his story of the new land; and this so enrages Vasco that he speaks out violently against the injustice shown him, and is cast into prison for his intemperate speech. In his dungeon he is watched tenderly by the dusky Selika, who loves him; but Nelusko, who is jealous of her attachment to the white man, makes an attempt to stab him. Selika, however, prevents him from doing so; and on Vasco awakening, she gives him all the information he will require as to the course he must take when he sets forth on his next voyage, for she desires him to return to the island of which she is the Queen. When Vasco is released he finds that in order to save him from execution Irez has been compelled to betroth herself to Don Pedro; and the latter, wishing to wrest the glory of proving the existence of the new land from Vasco, has put himself in charge of the vessel which has been prepared for the new expedition, and sets forth, having kidnapped the native, Nelusko, as a guide. The native, however, smarting at the separation from his beloved Selika, in revenge guides the vessel on to a dangerous reef, where it is wrecked. Vasco di Gama meanwhile has set out on another vessel with Selika, and follows close on the track of Don Pedro; and seeing that he is drifting towards the reef he approaches and warns him of his danger. Don Pedro, however, believing his rival has only followed to steal from him the Princess Inez, whom he had forced to accompany him, does not heed his warning; and when his vessel is presently wrecked on the reef it is boarded by savages, who slay him and most of his crew. Inez, however, escapes to the neighboring island, where she remains in hiding, and Nelusko, being one of the natives, is also unmolested. Selika is the queen of this island, and in order to save Vasco from the fury of her people, who would sacrifice him, she declares him to be her husband. An elaborate marriage ceremony is then arranged, but as it is about to take place the voice of the wandering Inez is heard not far away, and Vasco, recognizing it with joy, rushes away to seek her. In the last scene he has found her, and the lovers have also succeeded in reaching his vessel in safety, and as they set sail for Portugal, full of joy at their reunion, the unhappy Selika flings herself beneath the drooping boughs of a poisonous tree, no longer desiring to live. Here she is found expiring by the faithful Nelusko, who, seeing that she cannot recover, clasps her in his arms and dies with her.