A feminist retelling of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde"

In this new opera by Alice Shields for singers and chamber orchestra, Criseyde emerges as a romantic heroine in a dramatic retelling — from a woman's perspective ­ of Chaucer's famous tale.

The libretto is a new Middle English resetting of Chaucer's romance, that puts back in the story the important lines in Italian that Boccaccio wrote about Criseyde — lines that Chaucer took out!

Roles & Instrumentation | Synopsis

Join the Supporters of the opera Criseyde:
Join the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust for Music, American Music Center, PatsyLu Fund for Women's Music Projects and donors Dr.Russell Palmeri and Dr.Carolyn MacGregor.  A donation can be made here.

Opera in Two Acts
For 5 solo singers, ensemble of 3 singers, and chamber orchestra of 14 solo instruments (flute/piccolo, oboe, english horn, bassoon; harp, piano; strings)
Duration:  2 hours

Music and Libretto by Alice Shields
with Middle English dialogue based on Chaucer
and excerpts in medieval Italian from Boccaccio's "Il Filostrato."




CRISEYDE,  a noble lady of Troy, a young widow......................... Soprano

TROILUS,   Prince of Troy.......................................................... Lyric Baritone

PANDAR,   uncle to Criseyde, and subordinate of Troilus.............. Basso Cantante
Also plays Calkas, father of Criseyde

CASSANDRA,  an oracle, younger sister to Troilus...................... Mezzo-Soprano

DIOMEDE,  a Greek Prince....................................................... Baritone

THREE LADIES,  nieces and companions to Criseyde:............... Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano


CHAMBER ORCHESTRA  (14 solo instruments):

english horn

trumpet in Bb


violin I
violin II
(depending on acoustics, strings can be increased in number, e.g. to




Space-age meets Medieval, in a World of Shadows
The time of the opera morph between the fourteenth century, the present and the future. Singers' costumes can be medieval bodices, gloves and armor, in space-age metallic and transparent materials. Multimedia technology can be used to project the shadows of onstage cage-like structures with which the singers interact.


Within the story of an intense love affair, the opera Criseyde focusses on the imbalance of power between the sexes, on the historical position of women as commanded and controlled by male relatives. While being used by her family as a sexual trophy, a prize for political gain, Criseyde struggles for survival, self-respect and love.

Act I Part I
Pandar arranges to have his boss Prince Troilus view his beautiful young widowed niece Criseyde. Troilus is smitten. Pandar, who controls her estate, tells Criseyde he will kill himself if she doesn't let Troilus communicate with her. After vehemently objecting, she submits. Pandar arranges for Criseyde to glimpse Troilus. She is smitten. She considers whether to accept him as a lover and concludes there is no danger. She dreams about Troilus, and the psychic Cassandra descibes her dream of love to the rest of the cast.

Act I Part II
Troilus burns with desire for Criseyde. At Pandar's suggestion, he writes her a letter. Pandar takes her the letter, and forces her to write Troilus back. On returning with her letter, Pandar finds Troilus about to kill himself. They struggle, and Pandar wrenches the knife away from him.

Troilus collapses, weeping. He says his father the king will not let him marry Criseyde because she is not of royal blood. He is torn between intense desire for her, and his fears for her reputation if he consummates the affair. Pandar tricks Criseyde into coming to his bedroom to visit Troilus, who she is told is sick. She promises to love Troilus always, as long as her honor is protected. Pandar tells the couple to meet him in secret at his house. There, deeply in love, they fall into each other's arms, as Pandar perversely watches them.

Act II
Parliament announces they will give Criseyde to the Greeks in exhange for Prince Antenor, who is being held hostage. Criseyde's father Calkas, a traitor who has gone over to the Greeks, has arranged this. Criseyde is taken by the Greek Prince Diomede to Calkas' tent in the Greek camp, where she is threatened by rape and cannot escape. She fights back against her attackers, and just as she is about to be overwhelmed, Troilus bursts into the tent. A swordfight ensues, with Troilus killing Diomede, Calkas mortally wounding Troilus, and Crisyede killing Calkas. Troilus sings of his love to Criseyde, and expires. Criseyde gives her farewell to the audience, hoping that her story may be useful to other women.

Copyright 2010 Alice Shields
All Rights Reserved


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