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Picture of Giacomo Meyerbeer

Giacomo Meyerbeer

L'Africaine Deuxième Partie (22 morceaux et fragments inédits)

Author(s): Robert Ignatius Letellier

Book Description

This volume presents the various pieces of music—from fragments, through complete pieces, to whole scenes—that were not used in the final performing edition of Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine.
The genesis of Meyerbeer’s last opera is something of a legend. He had first considered the subject in 1837 when Scribe presented him with two new drafts, intended to clinch the triumphant successes of Robert le Diable (1831) and Les Huguenots (1836). The composer began composing Le Prophète immediately, but had the other project, L’Africaine, ever in his mind. By 1843 a piano score was ready, but the subject as it stood then, concerning Fernando da Soto’s explorations in West Africa, did not satisfy Meyerbeer. Scribe was asked to rewrite the libretto in 1851, with the hero changed to Vasco da Gama, and focussed on his epic voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to India. A new contract was signed in 1857, and the greater part of the opera was written between 1857 and 1863, in spite of the Meyerbeer’s growing debility.
Meyerbeer died on 2 May 1864, the day after the completion of the copying of the full score of Vasco da Gama. The rehearsal period was always a time of radical revision and excision for the composer, and he left a verbal request that the work should not be produced if he were not alive to supervise it. Minna Meyerbeer and César-Victor Perrin, the director of the Opéra, however, entrusted the editing of a performing edition to the famous Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis, while the libretto was revised by Mélesville. Because of the long public expectation, the editors restored the original title, and attempted to reconcile this to the Hindu elements of the action by shifting the action to the island of Madagascar.
L’Africaine was produced on 28 April 1865, a glorious posthumous tribute to Scribe and Meyerbeer. Much of the music and action was suppressed, in spite of the resultant strain on the internal logic of the story. The opera caused tremendous enthusiasm, and became enormously popular, being staged 60 times in the first four seasons, and eventually receiving 485 performances in Paris until the end of the century. The Ship Scene, the exotic Indian act, and the finale under the Manchineel Tree exerted a fascination on audiences, and elicited new praise. The work began a triumphal progress through the world, beginning with the big stages of London and Berlin. In its glorious vocal writing, resplendent orchestral colouring and fragrant exoticism, it was a source of delight to many—like Franz Liszt, who produced two books of transcriptions from the work.
Fétis edited a performing edition of the score, subsequently used all over the world. However, most of Meyerbeer’s manuscript was reproduced intact in the orchestral score printed by G. Brandus & S. Dufour. But Fétis also collected all 22 of the unused variants and fragments in vocal score for publication as the so-called Deuxième Partie. These remain a crucial source of information for the history and future performing editions of this great opera. Fétis himself observed of his own work:
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“Convinced, after a first reading of the score of L’Africaine, that this opera was the master’s most complete, most perfect oeuvre, the crowning achievement of his work, I then began a study of each of the parts, in order to prepare the score for the copying of the roles, the separate parts for the chorus and orchestra; and finally for the heads of the various performing departments. There began my task: sometimes several arias had been composed for the same situations, just as the composer was accustomed to do with his other operas, not fixing his choice until he had assessed the effect in rehearsals. He had also written many variants for the ensembles, particularly for the finale of act 4. Finally, indicators of performing abridgements for certain numbers of bars in many scenes were found in the manuscript for those instances where the musical development would be too long for the appropriate dramatic effect. Not wanting to prejudge the solutions that Meyerbeer had taken for many of these situations, I decided to make my choices according to my instincts, amidst all these matters left uncertain by the master. These choices were all made before I delivered the score to the copyist. During the rehearsals, the artists and the heads of services concurred that I had chosen well.”

Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-0615-2
ISBN-10: 1-4438-0615-3
Date of Publication: 01/06/2009
Pages / Size: 250 / A4 portrait
Price: £39.99
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Biography

Robert Ignatius Letellier was born in Natal, and educated in Grahamstown, Cambridge, Salzburg, Rome and Jerusalem. He is a member of Trinity College (Cambridge), the Salzburg Centre for Research in the Early English Novel (University of Salzburg), the Maryvale Institute (Birmingham), and the Institute for Continuing Education at Madingley Hall (Cambridge). His publications include books and articles on the late-seventeenth-, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novel (particularly the Gothic Novel and Sir Walter Scott), the Bible, and European culture, with emphasis on the Romantic opera and ballet. He has specialized in the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to research, and two readings of the operas, as well as compiling and introducing editions of the complete libretti and non-operatic texts). He has also written on the ballets of Ludwig Minkus.