Download France: Opera Comique, Operetta, Lyric Opera, Grand

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MUS 323/523 Opera History
19th Century French Opera
Years of the French Revolution:
 Some works were deliberately designed as Revolutionary Propaganda, depicting battle
events, martyrs, etc.
 There was still rivalry between Paris Opéra and Opéra Comique; romantic elements
were added, but rescue opera emphasized liberation themes that resonated with
After the Revolution many composers visited Paris from Italy and Germany; result was Paris
collected ideas from around Europe, assimilated into international style
 Serious opera evolved in 1820’s into Grand Opera: definition:
o Commissioned between 1828-1870 by Académie Royal de Musique (Paris Opéra)
o Story was religious or romantic, involving heroic feats, grand passions, great
o Lots of spectacle: huge crowd scenes for weddings, processions, wars, coronations,
miraculous events, sometimes in exotic locations
o Grand opera was government funded, with the primary audience the Bourgeoisie.
Govt. was picky about stories: stories were chosen for their ability to mold public
opinion, reinforce Bourgeois values (as long as not critical of French regime:
 Early example: Auber (1782-1871), La Muette de Portici
 Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) is most famous composer of French grand opera
o His operas were extremely popular then, not usually done today. This could be said
of most French Grand Opera, because:
 Extreme length
 Scenery demands, crowd scenes
 French Style of singing isn’t taught widely anymore (Italian and German styles
are more common)
 Wagner didn’t like Meyerbeer on grounds of anti-Semitism and that his
international style was perceived as working against German Nationalism; this
despite Meyerbeer’s influence on Wagner
o One of Meyerbeer’s best-known operas is L’Africaine (1865). Good example of an
opera on exotic theme; also has more progressive harmony than was common in
mid-19th century; very lyrical, very far removed from da capo format
 Hector Berlioz (1803-69) another composer of French Grand Opera
o Wrote 3 true operas: Benvenuto Cellini, Les Troyens, Beatrice and Benedict. Les
Troyens is in epic proportions, based on Virgil’s Aeneid. Infrequently performed for
same reasons as other grand operas: too expensive, singing demands are
 Many other examples from mid and late century, many sub-genres:
o Jacques Offenbach (1819-80) wrote operas in style called opéra bouffé: blend of
music, dance, spoken dialogue. An example is Orphee aux enfers (Orpheus in the
Underworld). A true opera by him is Tales of Hoffmann (Contes d’Hoffmann)
o Charles Gounod (1818-93) wrote operas very popular at the time, hardly ever
performed now. One famous was Romeo et Juliette
Late century and Georges Bizet (1838-75)
o Orientalism becomes strong theme in France, leads to more exotic locations in plots,
e.g.: his opera Les Pecheurs de Perles (1863) was set in Ceylon.
o Carmen (1875): another exotic story. Premiered just before his death
 This is Bizet’s most famous opera, with very familiar music
 Bizet was influenced by Wagner and Verdi:
 Wagner’s notion of the complete art work, using theater used to explore the
human condition; and also Leitmotifs
 Verdi’s tunefulness and psychological exploration
 Contains similarities to Verismo