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Picture of The Meyerbeer Libretti

The Meyerbeer Libretti

Opéra Comique 1 L'Étoile du Nord

Editor(s): Richard Arsenty

Book Description

Giacomo Meyerbeer, one of the most important and influential opera composers of the nineteenth century, enjoyed a fame during his lifetime hardly rivalled by any of his contemporaries. This ten volume set provides in one collection all the operatic texts set by Meyerbeer in his career. The texts offer the most complete versions available. Each libretto is translated into modern English by Richard Arsenty; and each work is introduced by Robert Letellier. In this comprehensive edition of Meyerbeer's libretti, the original text and its translation are placed on facing pages for ease of use.

The eleventh volume presents the fourth of Meyerbeer’s grands opéras, and his final work. By 1860 long-imposed labor had started to tell upon the composer’s health: he knew that he must concentrate on the “navigator project” which he had started twenty years earlier if he intended to finish it. Meyerbeer died on 2 May 1864, the day after the completion of the copying of the full score of this his last opera, Vasco da Gama. Minna Meyerbeer and César-Victor Perrin, the director of the Opéra, entrusted the editing of a performing edition to the famous Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis, while the libretto was revised by Mélesville. The original title of L’Africaine was restored out of deference to public expectation. Much of the music and action was suppressed, in spite of the strain this inflicted on the internal logic of the story.

While L'Africaine is not lacking in the grandeur of statement and stirring climaxes for which the composer was so famous, there is a new intimacy, a new intensity of melancholic lyricism. Like its famous predecessors, it is basically an historical work, derived from the period of sixteenth-century Renaissance. The account of Vasco da Gama's voyage of discovery around the Cape of Good Hope and conquest of Calicut (1497-98) is subjected to a fictional treatment that raises many interesting issues. The framework is historical, but most of the characters and course of action are not; in fact the end of the opera, in the suicide of the heroine, suddenly leaves the terra firma of reality, and transports us into the mystical realms of the spirit. It is this mixture of modes that is central to the dramaturgy of L'Africaine, a confusion of history and fairytale, ancient certainties and challenging discoveries, in the creation of a new mythology. There is also originality in formal developments, with the great tenor scene in act 4 providing a new malleability in handling the constraints of shape and genre: recitative, arioso and cabaletta have a fluent integration in trying to explore the text more pointedly.

L’Africaine was produced on 28 April 1865, a great posthumous tribute to its famous creators. The Ship Scene, the exotic Indian act, and the Scene of the Manchineel Tree exerted a fascination on audiences, and elicited new praise. The work full of melodic beauty and rapturous lyricism, began a triumphal progress through the world, beginning with the big stages of London and Berlin.


ISBN-13: 978-1-8471-8968-4
ISBN-10: 1-84718-968-7
Date of Publication: 01/10/2008
Pages / Size: 333 / A5
Price: £9.99


Richard Arsenty, a native of the U.S. midwest, received degrees from the University of Illinois in Biology Education and Library Science. After teaching for seven years at the high school, college and university levels, he took advantage of a unique opportunity and went to work as a libretto translator for MRF Records in New Jersey. Eight years later he decided to return to academia, accepting a position as Science Reference Librarian at Purchase College near New York City. At the end of 2002, after sixteen years of service to the college, he took an early retirement and returned to Illinois where his family is located. Richard has translated more than 160 libretti for organizations such as Opera Orchestra of New York, The New York City Opera, The Waterloo Festival, Hungaraton Records, Orfeo Records and Opera Rara. His translations include all of Meyerbeer’s operas (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2004), Nerone (Boito), Das Liebesverbot (Wagner), La Juive (Halévy), Marino Faliero (Donizetti), Salammbô (Reyer), Jérusalem (Verdi), Crispino e la Comare (Ricci) and many others.

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.