Articles of interest
04th August 2021
Fromental Halévy and His Operas
Volume 1: 1799-1841
Volume 2: 1842-1862
By Robert Ignatius Letellier and Nicholas Lester Fuller
Reviewed by Doménec González de la Rubia
These two magnificent volumes of the biography and the operas of the composer Halévy will undoubtedly become a benchmark due to the large amount of data and documentation they provide. The authors are Robert Ignatius Letellier and Nicholas Lester Fuller. Letellier is undoubtedly the greatest specialist on this period of music. His works on Meyerbeer, Auber, French opera and now Halévy certify this. This magnificent work should be consulted by all who come to this fascinating world.
The first volume, spanning from 1799 to 1841, opens with an interesting introduction, which is followed by the biography of the composer written by FJ Fétis for his monumental Universal Biography of Musicians and General Musical Bibliography. Especially attractive is the third section of the volume, which consists of an extensive correspondence between Halévy and composers, librettists, singers, editors and opera managers. This first volume also contains a list of his operas up to La reine de Chypre. Exceptionally engaging are the critical comments that appear during premieres and performances of operas. In fact, each of those presented (the first volume goes from his first dramatic work, the comic opera L’Artisan, to La reine de Chypre) talks about the cast, the plot and the origins of the composition, and comments on the work, the music, its appropriations, its appearances in the press, its reviews and reception and its performances. In addition, the volume is adorned with numerous images that allude to characters from his operas.
Without a doubt, this is a work that should not only interest Halévy lovers, but also those of opera and French music in general. In fact, the life of this composer spans one of the most interesting periods in the history of music. Naturally, the more important the opera represented, the more numerous the pages devoted to it. Thus, La Juive covers pages 250 to 314.
The quality of the paper and the color illustrations (in this first volume alone, there are 58), as well as the binding, denotes the affection with which the edition has been published.
The second volume covers the years from 1842 to 1862, and opens its list of operatic contributions of this period with Carlos VI, ending it with Noé, a great opera in three acts and four pictures which premiered posthumously in Karlsruhe on April 5, 1885. In reality, however, the last opera written entirely by Halévy was La Magicienne, which premiered at the Pelletier Hall of the Théâtre de la Opera on March 17, 1858, reaching up to 42 performances. Also noteworthy are the 144 excellent illustrations that make up the volume, as they are of excellent and allude to the scenography, costumes and score.
Halévy also wrote some ballets, some cantatas and even unreleased incidental music that would be great to listen to. Letellier is aware of this circumstance and therefore alludes in sections 32 and 33 to incomplete operatic fragments (Vanina d´Ornano and Le Koenigsmark) and to the cantatas Les Cendres de Napoleón (1840), Les Plages du Nil (1846), Prométhée Enchâiné (1849) and Italie (1859), which he accompanies with journalistic reviews of the time. In this way, he completes a sensational work for which he has had the excellent collaboration of Nicholas Lester Fuller.
Without a doubt, this is a definitive work on the operatic contribution of an unjustly forgotten composer. Halévy is an author of impeccable technique and excellent dramatic sense, a true representative of what was at that time the best opera school in Europe, the French. The change represented by the Wagnerian contribution, and even the work of Verdi, served to promote other centers of international operatic irradiation, not to mention the nationalist schools of countries such as Russia or Bohemia, among others. However, it is true that the well-deserved prestige enjoyed by French dramatic music of that period (1825-1870) is based on the creative flow of many works of superb inspiration and craftsmanship and the lavishness with which they were represented. In a way, a comparison with the literature of the time is not gratuitous. French romanticism always had a taste for theatricality, exoticism, epic, religiosity, realism and even grandiloquence, and all these aspects, along with others, naturally influenced the assumption of some conventions that produced a genre of enormous success in those days that authors like Auber, Meyerbeer or Halévy knew how to capture in their works.
It is thanks to the magnificent studies that Letellier has carried out on this period that we can approach with greater knowledge of the facts that fascinating and unrepeatable period in the history of opera.