100 bästa operorna – 54 Hugenotterna av Meyerbeer

23 mars 2010

54 Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer

Les Huguenots is a French opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, one of the most popular and spectacular examples of the style of grand opera. The opera is in five acts and premiered in Paris  in 1836. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps.


The plot of the opera culminates in the historical St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 in which thousands of French Huguenots  (Protestants) were slaughtered by Catholics  in an effort to rid France of Protestant influence. Although the massacre was a historical event, the rest of the plot, which primarily concerns the love between the Catholic Valentine and the Protestant Raoul, is wholly a creation of Scribe.

Act 1

A short orchestral prelude, featuring the Lutheran chorale Ein feste Burg, replaces the extended overture Meyerbeer originally intended for the opera. We are at the chateau of the (Catholic) count of Nevers, who is entertaining his fellow noblemen. They await the arrival of Raoul, and are surprised to hear that this emissary of the Court is a Huguenot. After a drinking song at Raoul’s entry, the newcomer is prevailed upon to give a tale of love. Raoul tells of an unknown beauty he has rescued and fallen in love with. (With a daring and unusual stroke of orchestration, Meyerbeer accompanies this aria with a solo viola d’amore). Raoul’s Protestant servant Marcel is shocked to see his master in such wicked company and sings a hearty Protestant prayer (to the tune of ‘Ein fester Burg’). He then sings a Huguenot battle song from the siege of La Rochelle, Pif, paf.

The arrival of a mysterious lady stranger to speak to Nevers (off stage) interrupts the proceedings. Raoul recognises her as his mysterious beauty. In fact she is Nevers’s intended bride, Valentine (daughter of St. Bris), instructed by the Queen to break off her engagement. Enter the page Urbain, with a secret message for Raoul, daring him to come blindfold to a secret rendezvous.

Act 2

The chateau and gardens of Chenonceaux. Queen Marguerite looks into a mirror held by her enamoured page Urbain, and sings the virtuoso pastorale, O beau pays de la Touraine. Valentine enters and reports that Nevers has agreed to break the engagement. Marguerite’s entourage of ladies enter dressed for bathing – cue for a ballet. Raoul enters blindfolded and the ladies tease him. With his sight restored, the Queen orders Raoul to marry Valentine to cement relations between the Protestant and Catholic factions. In a complex final ensemble, while a chorus of nobles swears friendship, Raoul, who believes Valentine is the mistress of Nevers, refuses to comply with the Queen’s command. The nobles then swear revenge, and Marcel reproaches Raoul for mixing with Catholics.

Act 3

Paris, the ‘Pré aux clercs’ on the left bank of the Seine, at sunset. The act opens with extensive scene setting of citizens, soldiers, church-goers and gypsies. Valentine has just married Nevers, but remains in the chapel to pray. Marcel delivers a challenge from Raoul. Saint-Bris decides to attack Raoul, but is overheard by Valentine. A watchman declares curfew (the scene anticipating a similar one in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger). Valentine, in disguise, tells Marcel of the plot against Raoul. The duel is interrupted by rival factions of Protestant and Catholic students, and only the arrival of the Queen stems the chaos. Raoul realises that Valentine has saved him and that his suspicions of her were unfounded – however, now she is wedded to his enemy. Nevers leads her away in a splendid procession.

Act 4

A room in Nevers’ Parisian town-house. Valentine, alone, is surprised by Raoul who wishes to have one last meeting with her. The sound of approaching people leads Raoul to hide behind a curtain, where he hears the Catholic nobles, accompanied by three monks, who bless their swords, pledge to murder the Huguenots. Only Nevers does not join in the oath. This scene is generally judged the most gripping in the opera, and is accompanied by some of its most dramatic music. When the nobles have departed, Raoul is torn between warning his fellows and staying with Valentine, but finally duty triumphs over love. Valentine faints as Raoul makes his escape.

Act 5

Scene I

A ballroom. The Protestants are celebrating the marriage of the Queen to Henry of Navarre. The tolling of a bell interrupts the proceeding, as does the entrance of Raoul, who informs the assembly that the second stroke was the signal for the Catholic massacre of the Huguenots.

Scene II

A cemetery – in the background a ruined Protestant church. Nevers dies protecting Marcel, who is wounded; Valentine agrees to become a Protestant to marry Raoul and Marcel carries out the nuptials. A ‘chorus of murderers’ shoots all three, after they express their vision of heaven, ‘with six harps’.[4] They are finally murdered by St. Bris and his men, he realising only too late that he has killed his own daughter. The entrance of the Queen, and the chorus of soldiers singing ‘God wants blood!’, bring the opera to a close.

Raoul de Nangis, a huguenot – tenor
Comte de Nevers, a catholic nobleman – baritone
Marcel,Raoul’s servant – bass
Valentine, fiancée of Nevers – soprano
Marguerite de Valois, Queen of France – soprano
Urbain, a page – mezzo-soprano


Les Huguenots is the kind of opera that would do very well as a bit of parody of opera itself. It’s big drama, the roles are among the most difficult (which explains why it’s not performed very often) and in the end everybody dies. Well joking aside, I haven’t seen the opera, so I think it’s hard to give any judgement of it without the full music. The libretto is melodramatic, but with suitable music it might work well. The opera is rarely performed in full, there are some concert version of it though. Joan Sutherland gave it some publicity though, and is probably the modern singer that is mostly associated with it. Here she is singing Marguerite’s aria O beau pays, the duet in act 4 Tu m’aimes is also pretty popular, and wonderful music. One also realises how difficult Raoul’s part is, considering that this is the kind of singing he does throughout the whole opera, and he’s on stage for almost the full opera.



100 bästa operorna – L’Africaine av Meyerbeer

17 juli 2009

78 – l’Africaine by Giacomo Meyerbeer

L’africaine (The African Woman) is a grand opera, the last work of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French libretto was written by Eugène Scribe. Meyerbeer’s working title for the opera was ‘Vasco da Gama’, the hero.

The opera depicts fictional events in the life of the explorer Vasco da Gama.

Place: Lisbon, at sea, and in an exotic new land.
Time: late 15th century

Act 1

The council chamber, Lisbon. The beautiful Inèz is forced by her father, the Grand Admiral Don Diego, to marry Don Pédro instead of her true love, Vasco da Gama. Da Gama, who is thought to have died in the expedition of Bartolomeu Dias, appears at the Grand Council saying he has discovered a new land, and displaying Sélika and Nelusko as examples of a newly-discovered race. His request for an expedition is refused, causing da Gama to attack the Grand Inquisitor, who anathematises him. Da Gama is then imprisoned.

Act 2

In prison, Sélika, who is in fact queen of the undiscovered land, saves da Gama, whom she loves, from being murdered by Nélusko, a member of her entourage. Inès agrees to marry Don Pédro if da Gama is freed; da Gama, not realising that Inès has made this bargain, and noticing her envy of Sélika, gives her Sélika and Nelusko as slaves. Don Pédro announces he is to mount an expedition to the new lands that were da Gama’s discovery. Nélusko offers his services as pilot.

Act 3

Nélusko is navigating Don Pédro’s ship, but is secretly planning to destroy the Europeans. He sings a ballad of the legend of Adamstor, the destructive giant of the sea. Nélusko gives orders which will direct the ship into an oncoming storm. Da Gama has followed Don Pédro in another ship, and begs him to change course to avoid destruction. Don Pédro refuses, and orders him to be chained. The storm breaks out. Nélusko leads the local people to kill all the Europeans on the ships – only da Gama is spared.

Act 4

Sélika’s island. Sélika is met with a grand celebration and swears to uphold the island’s laws, which include the execution of all strangers. Da Gama is captured by priests, who intend to sacrifice him. He is amazed by the wonders of the island, and sings perhaps the most famous aria of the opera O Paradis! (O Paradise!). Sélika saves him by saying that he is her husband, forcing Nélusko to swear this is true. Da Gama resigns himself to this new life, but hearing the voice of Inez, who is being taken to her execution, he rushes to find her.

Act 5

The island. The reunion of da Gama and Inez is interrupted by Sélika, who feels betrayed. When she realises the strength of the lovers’ affection, she allows them to return to Europe, telling Nélusko to escort them to da Gama’s boat. She then commits suicide by inhaling the perfume of the poisonous blossoms of the Manchineel tree. Nélusko follows her into death.

Don Pedro – bass
Don Diego – bass
Inèz – soprano
Vasco da Gama – tenor
Don Alvar – tenor
the grand inquisitor – bass
Nélusko – baritone
Sélika – soprano
the high priest – bass

This is another opera that I’ve only heard about the title, never any music from it. Eventhough it has been performed here and there during the last years, the performances haven’t found their way to the tube. The ones that can be found there is a very blurry performance from Barcelona in 1977 and a production from a German opera house, that has been filmed with bad quality from the back of the audience. The aria O, paradise can be found in several versions though. It was a standard piece for tenors in the 1950s/60s. Here it is sung in 2003 by Ben Heppner.


100 bästa operorna – 84 Le Prophete av Meyerbeer

8 juni 2009

84 – Le Prophete by Giacomo Meyerbeer

Le prophète (The Prophet) is an opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French-language libretto was by Eugène Scribe.



Meyerbeer originally wrote a long overture for the opera but this was cut, with various other sections of the work, during rehearsals due to the excessive length of the opera itself. The overture now survives only in the arrangement made for piano solo or duet made at Meyerbeer’s request by Charles-Valentin Alkan.

Act 1

Before Oberthal’s castle, Berthe explains to Fidès that she needs the Count’s permission to marry Jean. The Anabaptists enter singing their mysterious chorale, Ad nos ad salutarem, (to a tune created by Meyerbeer) and arouse the interest of local peasants in their revolutionary ideas. Oberthal refuses Berthe’s request (presumably with droit du seigneur in mind) and arrests Fidès and Berthe.

Act 2

Jean’s inn at Leyden. The Anabaptists enter and try to persuade Jean that he is their destined leader. Berthe enters, fleeing Oberthal; the Count arrives and threatens to execute Jean’s mother Fidès unless Berthe is returned to him. In despair, Jean hands over Berthe and succumbs to the lures of the Anabaptists.

Act 3

The camp of the Anabaptists. The first scene includes a ‘skating’ interlude set on the ice of a lake, which became a favourite part of the opera. (Apparently Meyerbeer was persuaded to include this at a late stage when roller-skating became a craze in Paris). The Anabaptists determine to seize Münster; their decision is overheard by Oberthal who has entered the camp in disguise. On his detection he is arrested; but when he informs Jean that he has seen Berthe alive in Münster, Jean cancels the order for his execution. Jean, in his role as Prophet and Leader, inspires the Anabaptist troops with a celestial vision of their impending success.

Act 4

Münster. Jean has taken the city, whose citizens are in despair at his rule. Berthe recognises Fidès, who has been told that Jean is dead, begging in the streets. Berthe determines to kill the wicked Prophet. Jean’s coronation is preceded by a splendid March. Fidès is determined to carry out Berthe’s plan for revenge but at the last moment recognises her son. Jean denies her and forces her to retract her recognition.

Act 5

John’s palace in Münster. The Anabaptist trio resolve to hand over Jean to the Imperial armies to buy their own protection. Fidès encourages Jean to acknowledge her and his sins, and repent. Berthe enters intending to set fire to the palace. When she realises that Jean is the Prophet she has come to destroy, she commits suicide. Jean and Fidès determine to end the revolt; during the celebrations of his coronation, Jean sets off an explosion which brings the palace down on all who remain of the principal characters.

Jean de Leyde – tenor
Fidés, Jean’s mother – mezzo-soprano
Berthe, Jean’s lover – soprano
Jonas, an Anabaptist – tenor
Mathisen, an Anabaptist – bass, or baritone
Zacharie, an Anabaptist – bass
Oberthal, a feudal count – bass

Meyerbeer is sometimes credited as the creator of Grand Opera, and this truly is grand opera. 5 acts, and everyone dies in the end. 😉 The opera itself is performed quite rarely. Most of the youtube-clips of performances, not just recordings to still images, are from a telecast in 1998, unfortunately with pretty bad picture quality. This is Berthe’s aria from the first act, sung by Victoria Loukianetz. I also chose to post this photomontage of the mezzosoprano Marilyn Horne singing Fidé’s part. Finall it’s the finale, performed by Victoria Loukianetz, Agnes Baltsa and Placido Domingo.