“Feluette” is a Quebec expression derived from the word “fluet” (slender, thin, and frail in appearance) meaning a weak man, effeminate, fragile, or overly sensitive.
The plot of Les Feluettes (Lilies) in a minute:
Throughout the opera, two narratives are staged together: at a prison in the present (1952) and a reenactment of the past (1912) by prisoners.
1952: Bishop Bilodeau visits a prison to supposedly hear the confession of his old classmate Simon, who has been an inmate there for 40 years. When the Bishop arrives, however, Simon and his fellow prisoners have something else in store — they put on a play depicting the events leading up to Simon's incarceration and force the Bishop to watch. Why? Because the Bishop's younger self was solely responsible for Simon's arrest.
1912: Simon is in love with a handsome young man named Vallier and the two are almost inseparable, which drives Bilodeau mad with jealousy. He is secretly in love with Simon but struggles between his faith and feelings. Simon and Vallier's love story is complicated because being openly gay isn't really possible in their society, so Simon finds a woman to marry. He eventually admits he can't live without Vallier, but also realizes that they could only ever be together in death. As Simon starts a fire and prepares to die with Vallier by his side, Bilodeau arrives and rescues Simon, leaving Vallier to die alone.
Detailed synopsis (courtesy of Pacific Opera Victoria):
Prologue. 1952. A Prison. When Bishop Bilodeau arrives to hear the confession of his old classmate Simon, who has been an inmate for 40 years, Simon and his fellow prisoners instead force him to watch a performance depicting the events that led to Simon’s incarceration.
Episode 1. Collège de Roberval, 1912, school theatre. Father Saint-Michel is directing a rehearsal of D’Annunzio’s play, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Simon plays Sebastian, who has been sentenced to be executed by his own archers, one of whom is Sanaé, played by Vallier. Sebastian assures Sanaé that he must die before he can be reborn.
Left alone, Vallier and Simon continue to rehearse; their acting grows more real and ardent, until they kiss. The bishop is horrified. Young Bilodeau interrupts, threatening to expose the boys, and adds that when Simon sets a fire he does it out of love for Vallier, whom Bilodeau has nicknamed Feluette (Lily White). Furious, Simon violently kisses Bilodeau. Vallier’s mother, the Countess, enters and applauds, thinking she has just witnessed a scene from the play. Simon and Bilodeau run off.
The Countess tells Vallier that she has marvellous news: a young Parisienne, Lydie-Anne de Rozier, has just arrived by balloon. Simon’s father Timothée enters and tells Vallier that Lydie-Anne has met the Count in Paris and that he will soon bring the Countess and Vallier back to France. As Father Saint-Michel returns, the Countess praises the kissing scene between Simon and Bilodeau. Although Vallier tries to downplay what happened, Timothée sets off in a fury to find Simon. Bilodeau tells him to look in the college attic.
Interlude. The inmates remove their belts and violently beat the ground. An image of the train station in flames. Vallier writes a love letter to Simon.
Episode 2. The terrace at Hôtel Roberval, a week later. Everyone marvels as Lydie-Anne arrives in her hot air balloon. The visiting doctor, Baron de Hüe, gives Simon salve for his wounds and asks what happened. Simon awkwardly explains that he fell from his horse onto some barbed wire. Lydie-Anne tells him he needs to become a better liar. She adds that she obtained her balloon with just a couple of lies. Vallier arrives, wondering where Simon has been the last few days. Lydie-Anne recounts that when she met the Countess she lied about meeting the Count in Paris. Simon tells her the Countess is a local laughingstock.
When they are alone together, Simon shows Vallier the scars from the whipping he received because of the Countess’s gossiping. He tells Vallier everything is over between them; he will think about girls from now on. Tearing up his letter to Simon, Vallier leaves.
Lydie-Anne flirts with Simon. When he takes his shirt off, she asks why he was beaten. He explains that it was because of a kiss. As she asks to whom he gave it, Simon kisses her. The Bishop is outraged.
Episode 3. The Countess and Vallier’s home, some weeks later. As the convent across the street burns, the Countess imagines herself waltzing with her absent husband. Vallier comes home, exhausted, and tells her he has taken a job to make ends meet. Furious that he would so lower himself, she blurts out that he is a coward like his father. Vallier declares angrily that his father is indeed a coward for abandoning his family. The Countess says she has read the letter Vallier tore up, believing it to be a loving letter for his father; she has glued it together and given it to Lydie-Anne to take to the Count in France. She quotes from the letter, as Vallier softly repeats the words. He then tells her that the fire across the street is a sign that Lydie-Anne has given Simon the letter. He admits he is in love with Simon. His mother already knows, and insists that Vallier must go to Simon and Lydie-Anne’s engagement party.
Episode 4. The ballroom at Hôtel Roberval. At the engagement party, Lydie-Anne mocks the Countess, and Simon reprimands her. When she reminds him that he has become increasingly inattentive to her, he reassures her that he is all hers, and they look forward to flying off together in her balloon.
Suddenly, Vallier enters, dressed as Emperor Caesar, and invites Simon to perform a scene from The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. After some hesitation, Simon plays his part. Timothée demands that Vallier leave, and the party descends into chaos. Disheartened, Lydie-Anne tells the Countess that indeed she met the Count in Paris, but that he has remarried and is the father of two girls.
In anguish, knowing that he and Lydie-Anne are to leave in the morning and that he will never see Vallier again, Simon curses Vallier and his own mad passion. Bilodeau, alone, reviles God for abandoning him and prays for Simon to stay. He then sets fire to Lydie-Anne’s hot-air balloon.
The bishop protests that Simon has no way of knowing any of this. Simon produces the bishop’s old journal.
Episodes 5 and 6. The forest, the next day. The Countess’ birthday gift to Vallier is a bathtub. As Vallier sits in the bath, Simon comes to wish him a happy birthday and to say goodbye. He admits that he doesn’t love Lydie-Anne as he should and finally confesses his love for Vallier. When Vallier responds in kind, they embrace and again recite the text of St. Sebastian.
The Countess tells Vallier she must leave him, and he is the only one she can ask to help her. He resists, but she quotes St. Sebastian: I am going to be reborn. But for that, I must die. Vallier covers his mother with earth and then strangles her. Simon wakes, sees the Countess dead, takes Vallier in his arms. As Vallier struggles in the grip of despair, Simon calms him. They exit. Bilodeau, who has seen everything, spits on the Countess’s body, then blesses her hand.
Episode 7. Collège de Roberval, school theatre. Vallier wakes in Simon’s arms. Bilodeau joins them, having arranged horses and provisions so they can all flee. Bilodeau gives Simon his journal and asks for a kiss, like that of the saint to his friend. Crying Never! Simon pushes Bilodeau out. As Bilodeau hammers on the doors, Simon embraces Vallier, and sets the place on fire.
Epilogue. Prison. Bishop Bilodeau recounts the rest of the story: he finally opened the doors. Everything was in flames, Simon and Vallier entwined on the floor. Bilodeau separated them and dragged Simon out. He went back for Vallier, but then abandoned him. Bilodeau explains that he let Simon live to force him to think of him, to be always obsessed with him. Old Simon and the inmates surround the bishop, knives in hand. He begs Simon to kill him, to free him. Simon says, “never” and throws his knife on the ground. All exit, leaving the bishop alone.