Les Mamelles de Tirésias


Discover the story of Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias.


The Theatre Manager announces the moral of the drama that the audience is about to witness: everyone must make more babies!

Act I

Thérèse, a young married woman, is fed up with the life of an obedient housewife. Her husband is no longer going to have everything his own way, she declares. She is a feminist, and full of ambitions. Maybe she’ll become a soldier or a painter, a politician – even a president. She unbuttons her blouse, and her breasts detach themselves and fly away like balloons. Thérèse bids them a joyful farewell, before exploding them with a cigarette lighter.

Without her breasts, but with the first growth of a beard visible, Thérèse updates her husband on his new situation: she will no longer be his wife, and henceforth will be known not as Thérèse but as Tiresias. She returns to the house and celebrates her release from domestic drudgery by hurling household objects – everything from a chamber pot to a piano – out of the window, while her astonished husband looks on.

Two drunks – Presto and Lacouf – appear from a café, to the accompaniment of a lively polka. They have been gambling and proceed to quarrel amicably, arrange a duel and shoot each other dead. Thérèse and her husband re-enter, Thérèse now stylishly dressed as a man, her husband as a housewife. A crowd joins them to mourn the deaths.

Thérèse departs on her new life of independence, determined to campaign against the slavery of childbirth. A policeman arrives to investigate the shootings, but is distracted by the charming woman he sees (actually Thérèse’s husband) and proceeds to flirt. The husband explains the situation. If the women will no longer have babies, then he will undertake the task himself. A newspaper seller scoffs, but the husband insists: if the policeman returns that evening he will witness the success of his procreation plan.

Act II

Babies’ cries during the entr’acte trumpet the speedy success of the husband’s plan. The curtain rises on a stage full of cradles; he has given birth to no fewer than 40,049 babies in just one day. A journalist asks how he can possibly support such a large family, and is swiftly reassured. The husband tells him that all will have successful careers and support him in his old age; one son has already written a very successful novel. The lesson, he says, is simple: the more children you have, the richer you will be.

But the policeman (who has returned) announces that the newly swollen population is starving. How will everyone eat? The husband suggests ration cards. A fortune teller encourages this new procreation-drive. Getting into a fight with the policeman, she kills him and reveals herself as Thérèse. The policeman recovers. Thérèse and her husband are happily reunited, joined in their dance of celebration by all the townspeople who join together to instruct the audience: make babies!

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