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Picture of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots

Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots

An Evangel of Religion and Love

Author(s): Robert Ignatius Letellier

Book Description

On 29 February 1836, Les Huguenots, a grand opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864), with words by Eugène Scribe (1791–1861) and Émile Deschamps (1791–1871), was performed for the first time, at the Paris Opéra. It was to be one of the most successful productions ever staged at the Opéra, with 1,126 performances in Paris over the next hundred years, and, in the process, breaking all box office records. It became Meyerbeer’s most popular work, with thousands of stagings throughout the world.

Les Huguenots is a huge exploration of faith, tolerance, hatred, extermination, love, loyalty, self-sacrifice and hope in despair. It is the first panel in a central diptych on the Reformation, at the heart of the wider tetralogy of Meyerbeer’s grand operas, where issues of power, religion and love are examined in a variety of modes. For five years after the sensational premiere of Robert le Diable, Meyerbeer worked on this gigantic drama, partly adapted by Scribe from Prosper Mérimée’s Chronique de Charles IX.

Meyerbeer matches the text in drama, splendour and ceremony: it combines theatricalism with profound depths of feeling. Its gorgeous colouring, intense passion, consistency of dramatic treatment, and careful delineation of character secured for this work vast fame and influence. It was an epoch-making opera, an enduring monument to Meyerbeer’s fame.

The music for this sombre tapestry of the Saint Bartholomew Massacre springs from the core of the vivid action, and creates a panoramic alternation of moods, that capture the tragedy of religious intolerance and personal anguish in one of the most fraught events in history, when some 30,000 French Protestants were murdered during 24 August 1574. Meyerbeer’s music rises to the occasion, and reaches sublime heights of music drama, especially in the fourth and fifth acts, with the Blessing of the Daggers (one of the most electric scenes in all opera), the more powerful Love Duet, and the Trio of Martyrdom in the last moments of the opera. Spectacle was incorporated in the plot, in Meyerbeer’s concern to conjure up the couleur locale of those heroic times.

In spite of the overwhelming dramatic power and the instrumental riches of the score, the most significant aspect of the work came to be regarded as the supremacy of the seven principal vocal parts. Performances of Les Huguenots at the Metropolitan Opera in New York during the 1890s were among the most famous in operatic history.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-5666-9
ISBN-10: 1-4438-5666-5
Date of Publication: 01/05/2014
Pages / Size: 308 / A5
Price: £44.99


Robert Ignatius Letellier has specialized in the music and literature of the Romantic Period. He has studied the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to research, two readings of the operas, as well as compiling and introducing editions of the complete libretti and non-operatic texts, and a selection of manuscripts facsimiles). He has also written on the ballets of Ludwig Minkus, compiled a series of scores on the Romantic Ballet, a sourcebook of the French opéra-comique, a study of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, and edited anthologies of Auber’s overtures, ballet music, and a series of his operatic vocal scores.