He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

After 11 years, I have finally seen Meyerbeer’s grand opera Le Prophète.

Utterly extraordinary.   It’s one of the half-dozen best operas ever, if not at the absolute pinnacle. [1]

Capitole-de-Toulouse-retour-fastueux-du-Prophete-de-Meyerbeer_width1024.jpg

You can watch the video here: https://culturebox.francetvinfo.fr/opera-classique/opera/le-prophete-de-meyerbeer-au-theatre-du-capitole-a-toulouse-271753

Setting: The Netherlands and Germany, during the 16th-century Wars of Religion.

Characters: A murderous demagogue, self-proclaimed Messiah and Son of God.  His mother.  His unhinged fiancee.  A feudal lord.  And an unholy trinity of Anabaptists.


“People of my father’s generation would rather have doubted the solar system than the supremacy of Le Prophète over all other operas” (Reynaldo Hahn).

It’s intense, with the sardonic brilliance of Euripides. (There are moments, too, like the trio bouffe in III, that look forward to Brecht.)

Meyerbeer is telling at once a small, intimate story – Fidès’s, Jean, and Berthe’s relationship – and an epic drama about tyranny, revolution, and religion; politics, mob violence, and fanaticism.

Score, of course, is superb.  Highlights include the Anabaptist sermon in I; Fidès’s arias (“Ah, mon fils” in II, “Donnez pour une pauvre âme” in IV, “Ô prêtres de Baal” in IV); Jean’s dream in II; the brilliant skating ballet; the Act III finale; the magnificent soprano/mezzo duet in IV (two women sharing their grief); the Cathedral Scene; and the prison scene (aria, duet, trio).  Unusual orchestral textures, melodic recitative…

The production is mod trad; there are some vaguely regie elements, but it works tremendously.  Kate Aldrich is a stunning singer and actress – what a voice!; and John Osborn excellent (definitely better than McCracken).  We need more grand opera!

Act I is weaker than the rest of the opera, in this production, and the Oberthal isn’t very good. From Act II – God, it’s terrific!

O sublime spectacle! Miracle. miracle du grand Prophète!


[1] OK, the others are Meyerbeer’s own Huguenots, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and Moniuszko’s Straszny dwór.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffmann, Wagner’s Lohengrin, Halévy’s Juive, Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, and Beethoven’s Fidelio also float around near the top.

 

6 thoughts on “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

  1. My copy of Faust just arrived this afternoon, but I am so watching this instead! Perhaps not the greatest opera ever, but it must be in the top ten! You are right though, the first act is by far the weakest. I’ve always liked the prelude (and the overture, if only conductors would attach it to the main score although that would add 12 minutes to an already 3 and a half hour long opera!) but the opening chorus is just pretty and not much else. Now that I’m actually paying attention to the libretto, there is a lot more about the inn than I remember! Such a personal and yet communal drama. I love me that Anabaptist anti-Trinity!

    A beautiful production!

    And obviously if you are Meyerbeer, Jan of Leyden can’t be the Messiah, he hasn’t come yet! So obviously Jan is just a naughty boy. 🙂

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    1. Have you finished it yet?

      The recitative and intimate scenes really stand out. Watching an opera production always adds so much more to, say, listening to a CD (or, with theatre, reading a script). On the other hand, one concentrates more on the music on headphones!

      Take Pacini’s Ultimo giorno di Pompei. (Please do!) It’s nondescript as music. If we could see the volcano erupt, the explosives blow up, and the molten lava course towards the screaming audience, it might be better!

      But getting back to the Prophète – Act II is a lot more intense than on CD, because it’s brought to life by actors, rather than singers in a studio. Strong situations, too – Berthe’s flight, Jean’s choice between his mother and his girl, Fidès’ prayer (with those cavernous low notes), and the Anabaptists urging Jean to lead the troops.

      The prison scene is also compelling. And the Act IV duet! And Fidès’s aria in the Cathedral Scene! And the Prophet’s renunciation of his mother! And…! And…! And…!

      And, dare I say, it, I much prefer Kate Aldrich to Marilyn Horne.

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      1. Uh, yeah I finished over 24 hours ago! Aldrich is more fantastic than Marilyn Horne in this role. There is an odd sexual tension going on though because Aldrich really isn’t old enough to be John Osborn’s mother, she is actually younger than him at age 46, and she has too much sex appeal to play the holy mum!

        Since you mentioned the decision scene in act 2, I find that the music does an amazing job on its own to depict the shock/horror value of Jean’s choosing between his mother and his fiancee. The Anabaptists always freak me out, they are the Unholy Trinity! The prison scene? You mean act 5 scene 1? I never think of it as a prison scene although I guess it does take place below ground!

        This is one of only two operas I have given an A+ to, so I think you are preaching to the choir on this one. I actually prefer this even to Les Huguenots! Although I can’t claim it is the number one best opera ever, it certainly is in the top five. Where on that scale, I don’t know, because I can think off the top of my head of operas just slightly better or equal to it (Don Carlos, Figaro, Don Giovanni, Traviata, possibly Otello or Carmen…). But yes, I have to grab on to Verdi, Bizet, and Mozart to find something equal to this! It blows Cilea, Wagner, and Gounod into outer space, never to be seen again. But yet again, I would put Boris Godunov in my top 20 but not my top 10 so what kind of a hack am I?

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  2. I wonder, am I alone on this or is L’Africaine/Vasco de Gama not as good as Huguenots and Prophete? Not that it isn’t excellent, but there is just something about it that just isn’t to the level of the other two. When I reviewed it for my blog I knew I had to give it an A and not an A+ like the other two. Still a great opera.

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    1. Yet again, L’Africaine is Meyerbeer’s most modern score. It is basically at the same chronological placement as Tristan und Isolde, and in its own way, just as innovative. But something about it just isn’t to the level of Huguenots and Prophete, the lack of deadly religious conflict? It seems to be something about the libretto because it can’t be the music (act 3 finale aside).

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      1. You’re rignt; it’s a great opera, but not quite as good as Huguenots or Prophete. I think it’s the opera’s long gestation; the opera about Vasco and colonialism was gradted onto the earlier Africaine. Still, wonderful music – and humanist.

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