Since it contributed greatly to defining the contours of a genre – Grand Opera – Les Huguenots is one of the most important works in the history of the Paris Opera. But are you familiar with a work that enjoyed colossal and uninterrupted success only to drift into oblivion for almost a century?
CULTURAL MELTING POT
Giacomo Meyerbeer was born near Berlin, Germany in 1791. After a debut that did not go unnoticed in Darmstadt and then Vienna, he knew success in Italy, composing in the style of Rossini whom he considered to be his mentor. He then came to Paris where, in the space of just three operas, he became the most performed composer of the 19th century.
FEAR OF FAILURE
huge success of Robert le Diable had
unexpected consequences: it paralysed Meyerbeer: Fearful of nor reproducing the
same success he kept delaying the composition of Les Huguenots.
And yet Eugène Scribe knew his craft: both a dramatist and a novelist, he was the principal librettist of Grand Opera, writing some of its greatest texts: Auber’s La Muette de Portici, Halèvy’s La Juive, Donizetti’s La Favorite and, of course, Verdi’s Les Vêpres siciliennes.
répétitions des Huguenots furent
houleuses, la partition étant jugée inexécutable. L’œuvre fut finalement créée
le 29 février 1836 dans une mise en scène fastueuse qui coûta 160 000 francs,
chiffre astronomique pour l’époque.
opera tells a love story set against a backdrop of religious tensions which
culminate in the Saint-Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Since the subject of
religious conflict was a sensitive one, the action was often transposed to
enable the opera to be performed abroad. One had to wait until 1848 for the
censors to loosen their grip and allow more faithful versions of the work to be
who chronicled the premiere, noted among other musical innovations, the
appearance of an intermediary form between aria and recitative: it presaged the
continuous melody which would later be developed by Wagnerian opera.