Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Breadth of French Opera in the 19th Century

Speaking with colleagues the other day, I asked 'what French operas are in the repertory' in this country, thinking that there were perhaps five. Carmen, of course, Manon, perhaps; Samson et Dalila is pushing it, as well as Faust these days; Les Contes d'Hoffmann? It's truly pathetic that we simply don't listen to French opera much at all anymore, and just about anything that comes through is considered a 'rarity'. (That misused word we hear so much when referring to opera that no one pays to come hear.) My friend offered La Fille du Régiment, but of course that is Donizetti, and if we admit one Italian in this cadre we have to say Verdi and Don Carlos as well.

However, the number of French operas that were were written in the 19th early 20th century are so immense, I wonder if there were as many Italian and German operas written contemporaneously to match them. A Canadian archive in Ottawa has released a huge library of newly digitized scores from this tranche of time, and simply to browse through them is to make one's jaw drop with astonishment at what we do not listen to, nonetheless perform on the operatic stage.

Do you know any of the operas of Adolphe Adam (Le Bijou Perdu, Giralda, Le Brasseur de Preston, Le Châlet, Le Sourd, Pantins de Violette, Le Farfadet, La Poupee de Nuremburg)? How about Alfred Bruneau? (Attaque du Moulin, La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret, Le Rêve, Le Roi Canadaule, L'Enfant Roi, Naïs Micoulin, Virginie, Le Jardin de Paradis or Messidor?) Or Camille Erlanger (Aphrodite, Saint Julien Hospitalier, Le Juif Polonais, Le Fils d'Étoile, Kermaria)? Or perhaps the famous Grisar (Les Porcherons , Bonsoir M. Pantalon, Gilles Ravisseur, La Chatte Merveilleuse, Le Cariolloneur de Bruges, Le Chien du Jardinier, Le Joallier de St. James, Les Amours du Diable, Les Poupées de l'Infante??

We all know that Offenbach wrote a zillion and a half operas, opera-comiques, opera bouffes - but he was surrounded by men who wrote continually for the Opéra and the Comique, or the Monnaie. Looking at some of these scores, there are beauties galore in them. If you ever get a chance to hear an air from Paul et Virginie (Massé), you will feel the same, I am sure. I am not saying that these works are uniformly the miaule-de-chat, but the enormity of the creative industry in them makes them worth a second look, if not a first...

You can find a surprising number of CDs of less-than professionally recorded versions of some of these operas at House of Opera.

Victor Massé
D. Auber
Alfred Bruneau
Victor MasséDaniel AuberAlfred Bruneau

No comments:

Post a Comment