208. La Muette de Portici (Auber)

  • Opéra in 5 acts
  • Composer: Daniel-François-Esprit Auber
  • Libretto: Eugène Scribe & Germain Delavigne
  • First performed: Opéra de Paris, 29 February 1828 (salle Le Peletier), conducted by François-Antoine Habeneck

MASANIELLO, A Neapolitan fishermanTenor (Elleviou, première haute-contre)Adolphe Nourrit
FENELLA, His sisterBallerinaLise Noblet
PIETRO, Masaniello’s friendBass (Lays, Martin)Henri-Bernard Dabadie
ALPHONSE, Son of the Duke of Arcos, viceroy of NaplesTenor (Gavaudan, ou forte seconde haute-contre)Alexis Dupont
ELVIRE, His fiancéeSoprano (première chanteuse)Laure Cinti-Damoreau
BORELLA, Masaniello’s friendBass (première basse-taille)Ferdinand Prévôt
MORENO, Masaniello’s friendBass (troisième basse-taille)Beltrame Pouilley
LORENZO, Alphonse’s confidantTenor (Philippe)Jean-Étienne-August Eugène Massol
SELVA, An officer of the viceroyBass (seconde basse-taille)Ferdinand Prévôt
Elvira’s lady-in-waitingSoprano (coyphée)Mlle Lorotte

SETTING: Naples and Portici, 1647

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

La Muette de Portici (Masaniello) was a musical and historic revolution. It was the first true French grand opéra, the signal for the Belgian Revolution of 1830, and it inspired Wagner.

Act V, last scene, from an 1863 production, Paris; Godefroy Durand. Source: Gallica

A swift, colourful melodrama, it is also one of the few operas in which the leading lady – the title character, at that! – doesn’t sing at all; instead, the prima donna is a ballerina. Still, she has a spectacular death.

The opera is loosely based on the Neapolitan revolt of 1647. The historical Masaniello – Tommaso Aniello (1620–47) – was a Neapolitan fisherman who led an uprising against the Spanish Viceroy in Naples, the oppressive Duke of Arcos, and his unpopular taxes. Masaniello was elected “captain-general” by the mob, and managed to secure a remittance of taxes, but went mad, and was eventually assassinated.

In Scribe and Auber’s opera, the catalyst for the rebellion comes when Masaniello’s sister, Fenella, is first seduced and then imprisoned by the Spaniards. Her lover was the Viceroy’s son, Alphonse, although Masaniello never learns this. As a result of her trauma, Fenella loses her voice. At the end, Masaniello is killed saving Alphonse and his wife Elvire from the mob. In despair, Fenella flings herself off a balcony while Vesuvius erupts. Fire and furore, one might say.

Le théatre en images, 1863. Source: Gallica.

La Muette de Portici is the first French grand opéra with all the typical characteristics of the genre, Letellier[i] states:

  • five short acts, most of which culminate in a dramatic and decorative tableau;
  • ballets loosely connected with the action – ballets that both set the local scene and are innate to the dramatic situation;
  • scenic sensation and mass scenes with lavish use of machinery, scenery, and costumes;
  • recurrent scene types and their appropriate type of aria;
  • a group of important leading roles;
  • powerful and functional choruses;
  • a much expanded reliance on the orchestra;
  • and the music responds to, and reflects, the vivid and imposing scenic effects.

La Muette de Portici was created at a time of crisis. The state-funded Académie royale de musique (the Paris Opéra) was the most important opera house in France, but audiences too often found its productions dull, old-fashioned, and less entertaining than those offered at other, popular theatres. The management needed to attract a new, middle-class audience. In 1827, a staging committee, the Comité de mise-en-scène, was set up to raise the Opéra’s standards; among its members were Cicéri the set designer, Solomé the stage manager, and Duponchel for props and sets. La Muette de Portici was the result, and a resounding success.

“It is a real triumph for the new genre that is being established, and that must bring the crowd back to a theatre where great effects can be produced, with the powerful means which the management makes available to the authors,” declared the Journal des débats (2 March 1828).[ii]

In La Muette, Eugène Scribe’s first libretto for the Opéra, he drew, Lacombe[iii] notes, on the mimodrama (the silent, danced heroine), dioramas (accurate stage-setting), melodrama (the spectacular eruption of Vesuvius), and vaudeville (lively ensemble scenes).

Audiences thrilled to the spectacle. The mise en scène was incomparable, wrote Fétis[iv], in the Revue musicale. “Never has the Opéra taken more care over staging, ballets, decorations, and costumes, which does the greatest honour to MM. Solomé, Aumer [the ballet-master], Cicéri, and Duponchel. What they have sought above all is the truth, and nothing has been neglected to achieve this goal.” Le Constitutionnel[v] agreed that in terms of spectacle, decorations, accessories, ballets, costumes, and mise en scene, the Opéra had never deployed more riches, more luxury, and more taste. “M. Cicéri recently voyaged to Naples, and it was to Naples that he transported us; one recognised the squares, the buildings, the shore, the beautiful Neapolitan sky.” The decorations, declared Le Corsaire[vi], were almost as truthful as the Diorama canvases. (Le Corsaire later devoted another article to those decorations.)

For the first time, the chorus moved, and became a main character, remembered Castil-Blaze[vii]; until then, Le Courrier français[viii] thought, the extras and choristers had seemed to form a compact body. This, argues Patrick Barbier[ix], was revolutionary, “bringing the drama to life in accordance with the most elementary principles of dramatic truth”: Solomé had “introduced direction worthy of its name”; the chorus “contribut[ed] moments of life, intensity, and colour at crowd scenes in the marketplace and during the rebellion.

Duponchel dressed Fenella, Masaniello, and the lazzaroni with an accuracy and truth that was almost scandalous, the Revue et gazette musicale[x] remembered 35 years later. “Today, we find it very simple; but then what astonishment, even what fright, to see that all the jackets were not all of the same colour, nor cut to the same pattern! Everyone had their own costume, just as, in the movement of the masses, everyone had their own gait, their own gesture. No more uniforms for every size, no more choristers arranged in two rows, and moving as if by springs!”

La Muette, wrote Julien Tiersot[xi] a century later (Le Ménestrel, 1928), was the first work whose story was drawn from modern history, a real drama. Less than a decade after its premiere, Edouard Monnais[xii] (Courrier français,1837) could say that La Muette introduced a new genre. Until then, pure Tragedy, in its Classical nobility and severity, held sway; Sacchini’s Œdipe à Colone and Spontini’s La Vestale were the models, from which only the féerie had the right to deviate. The opera libretto, the Revue et gazette musicale[xiii] stated, was a bastard form of classical tragedy. Scribe put opera on a new footing. “The libretto stepped down from its stilts; it left Olympian heights and palaces to show simple fishermen, common people, mingling with princes and great men.” “With La Muette,” Monnais claimed, “drama varied in all its forms, drama accessible to all interests great and small, to all the sad and joyful emotions, ventured on the ground trodden by gods and heroes; with Masaniello, the people invaded the domain reserved for pontiffs and kings, nymphs and princesses.”

La Muette’s revolution in libretto, music, costumes, and mise en scène had a rapid, sudden, and lasting influence, the Revue[xiv] thought. Over the next couple of decades, Scribe and others wrote operas for Meyerbeer, Rossini, Halévy, Donizetti, and Verdi set in modern history, featuring revolutionary leaders (Le Prophète), a people oppressed by the aristocracy or foreign invaders (Guillaume Tell, Le Prophète, Le duc d’Albe / Les vêpres siciliennes), and mob violence (offstage here, shown explicitly in La Juive and Les Huguenots). Opera, writes Barbier, “set the common man against the backdrop of the heroic and revolutionary spirit”[xv].

One young revolutionary particularly taken by La Muette was Richard Wagner. “It is a national-work such as no nation has more than one at most to boast of,” the German wrote[xvi]. “That storm of energy, that sea of emotions and passions, painted in the most glowing tints, drenched with the most original melodies, compact of grace and vehemence, of charm and heroism, – is not all this the true embodiment of latter-day French history?  Could this astonishing art-work have been fashioned by another than a Frenchman? There is no other word for it, –with this work the modern French school had reached its apex, and with it the hegemony of the civilised world.”

“Such a vivid operatic subject was a complete novelty – the first real drama in five acts with all the attributes of a genuine tragedy, down to the actual tragic ending… Each of these five acts presented a drastic picture of the greatest vivacity, in which arias and duets in the conventional operatic sense were scarcely to be detected any more, or at least – with the exception of the prima donna’s aria in the first act – no longer had this effect. Now it was the entire act, as a larger ensemble, that gripped one and carried one away.”[xvii]

The earliest grand opera, Grey argues, is the genesis of Wagnerian through-composed music drama. Similarly, the revolutionary liberator of the people Masaniello is the basis for Rienzi in Wagner’s 1842 opera, while the heroine’s death and accompanying volcano erupt once more in Brünnhilde’s immolation and the fiery cataclysm that closes Götterdämmerung.

Audiences were struck by the variety and excitement of La Muette, compared to the statelier works given at the Opéra. “An opera in five acts that is not boring, is almost a marvel,” declared Le Constitutionnel.[xviii] There was, the Journal des débats[xix] observed, much action and movement, and a great variety of tableaux. Fétis[xx] reported that the interest did not flag; only the first act seemed a little too long: “In each act, the scenes are arranged with art to bring a finale full of effect and tableaux of a different colour.”  At the start of the 20th century, Camille Bellaigue[xxi] wrote that La Muette “never languished or lingered; on the contrary, it is carried away in a perpetual whirlwind”, while more recently, Hibberd[xxii] believes the music generates a “sense of forward propulsion”.

But the drawback of this “principle of excitement”, as Gerhard[xxiii] terms it, is that La Muette is almost entirely extroverted. It can seem a series of picturesque or exciting tableaux, rather than a drama. The emotions and personalities of the characters are secondary to the situations and even to the special effects. The characters of La Muette lack interiority; moments for reflection are few and far between (Alphonse’s aria at the start of Act I, Masaniello’s in Act IV) – and, of course, the (mute) heroine cannot have a monologue! It is difficult to care about the characters in the way we do Halévy’s in La Juive, for instance; they lack Meyerbeer’s Shakespearean richness. Scribe has sometimes been taxed with cardboard characterisation; this is one of the few operas where that criticism seems justified. Gerhard[xxiv] blames Auber rather than Scribe; he claims that Auber “fails to use the form [Alphonse’s aria] to delineate character with precise nuances or to highlight psychological conflict”. Hibberd[xxv], however, disagrees that Auber failed to delineate character and psychological conflict through music: “The charge is irrelevant.” She argues “the stark juxtaposition of vivid moods and characterisations, underpinned by an urgent rhythmic impulse” increases “the political urgency of the drama”.

La Muette de Portici was Auber’s sixteenth opera; he was already an established opéra-comique composer, of which the most successful were La neige (1823) and Le maçon (1825), and had been awarded the Légion d’honneur.

But, according to Mirecourt[xxvi], newspapers unjustly attacked him: he was not a musician, but a habilleur de flonflons, timid and short-breathed, damned to the Opéra-Comique for ever. In desperation, Auber asked his writing partner Scribe for a work that would hush them; had he a story for a five-act opera? No, replied Scribe, but he would find one. The two men went to the Feydeau, where the mime Bigotini was appearing in Deux mots ou Une nuit dans la forêt (1806), a one-act opéra-comique by Dalayrac. At the end, Scribe tapped his friend on his shoulder. “I have our story, my dear fellow!”

The Opéra at that time lacked a première cantatrice – Caroline Branchu, Spontini’s mixed-race prima donna, had retired, while the Rossinian soprano Laure Cinti-Damoreau could only sing, not act, and couldn’t support a whole work by herself[xxvii] – so an opera starring a ballerina would be a novelty. And, Auber hoped, it would show the feuilletonnists that they wrote for the Opéra-Comique because it was to their taste, not their powerlessness.

Louise Noblet as Fenella. Source: Gallica

Fenella was named after the dumb heroine in Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak (1823). The success of the role was debatable. The Journal des débats[xxviii] thought her silence harmed the opera; she could not take part in ensembles; she had only the orchestra to represent her musically; and the high melodies were given to a secondary role, without much relation to the story. Years later, Castil-Blaze[xxix] considered introducing a mute into a lyrical drama clumsy: “Fenella’s enforced silence significantly harms the musician’s combinations, impoverishes and blinds the ensemble pieces.” Again, Jouvin[xxx] thought giving the main role of an opera to a mute seemed a challenge rather than an innovation. Fétis[xxxi], however, thought the criticism unfounded; the role of the mute woman was an innovation, reuniting the advantages of opera and ballet. Indeed, Clément[xxxii] thought expressing Fenella’s feelings through music was the score’s greatest innovation. More recently, Barbier[xxxiii] thought the originality of the mute role banished the all-powerful prima donna, and increased the importance of the orchestra by having it provide a commentary to Fenella’s actions.

Scribe and his friend Delavigne wrote the libretto in eight days; Auber wrote the score in three months, leaving him exhausted.

The illustrious master has often declared to his friends that, when the fever of composition had abandoned him, and his pen, sated with melodies, had traced the final chord, it seemed to him that nothing would henceforth sing in his brain and in his imagination; for several months, he was seized with a weariness he had never felt before, and which he would not feel again in the future: he was incapable of having an idea or of writing the simplest musical phrase.[xxxiv]

Rehearsals began in December 1827, and the work premiered two months later. The public were enthusiastic, and, Mirecourt[xxxv] writes, “the devastated critic bowed his head and dropped his pen”. The premiere was a success: Mirecourt[xxxvi] reports people leaning out of boxes and standing on their seats, throwing a rain of flowers at Nourrit’s feet, and the thunder of the applause was heard on the street outside.

“Now, MM. the journalists will shut up, I imagine,” Auber told Scribe. “Let us return to the Opéra-Comique.”[xxxvii]

Reception, in fact, was mixed; as Jouvin[xxxviii] writes, the public were enthusiastic, but the critics were reserved. Le Consitutionnel[xxxix] thought Act I was too long, Act IV bad, and Act V too diffuse, but praised Acts II and III unreservedly. “They are dramatic; the force of the situations, the pressing interest which distinguishes them, inspired the composer who … rose to a great height of talent. Those two acts, and the overture, placed Auber almost on a level with our French composers who slumber at the Institut.” Le Corsaire[xl] thought the work was a magnificent success, but some cuts were indispensable; the soprano’s arias were interminable (11 minutes, timed watch in hand, and interrupted several times by applause). Le Figaro[xli] considered Auber one of the most promising young composers; La Muette contained very beautiful, inspired pages, but the work was uneven; Act III was splendid, and it was a pity the whole opera wasn’t conceived in that style, but Acts I and V were empty.

Fétis, in the Revue musicale[xlii], was enthusiastic: “Frankly abandoning the Rossinian manner, and returning to his own style, M. Auber has placed himself, by the music of La Muette de Portici, in the first rank of French musicians. One recognizes the composer of the pretty operas of La Bergère châtelaine, Emma, and La Neige, etc., but more vigorous, more energetic than he had shown himself up to now, which does not exclude grace and freshness from his music. His instrumentation, brilliant without fuss, is always clear and frank. There is no trial and error, no uncertainty: on the contrary, everything announces a skilful man who produces the effects he wants to obtain.” In a subsequent article, Fétis[xliii] declared: “The qualities that one notices in [La Muette] are so brilliant that they suffice to rank it among the productions that do most honour to the French school.” A decade later, Monnais[xliv] considered Auber’s style truly French music: “a fine and witty invention, capable of vigour, a singular elegance of style, and an exquisite understanding of the sympathies, needs, and limits of his listeners”.

But some critics still thought La Muette resembled an opéra-comique writ large. Castil-Blaze[xlv], for instance, called it “a grand opera in small proportions, an opéra-comique with récitatifs and without finale, without prima donna, because she’s performing a continuous tacet”. Similarly, Le Figaro[xlvi] observed thatlittle tunes, barcarolles, couplets, and récitatif covered all the gaps in the work. Other critics disagree. Joseph d’Ortigue[xlvii] (Le Ménestrel) denied that La Muette was, as some had suggested since 1828, simply an opéra-comique transplanted to the Opéra, a series of opéra-comique scenes linked by recitative; although Rossini had famously called Auber a grand musician who wrote small music, Auber also could write grand music when he pleased.

The issue is that stylistically, La Muette resembles opéra-comique more than it does later grand opéra (including Auber’s own Gustave III, five years later). As Hibberd[xlviii] points out, Auber’s score, like that of his 1820s opéras-comiques, “features short-breathed forms with simple lyrical melodies, and a prominent role for the chorus” – mixed with Rossinian Italianate numbers for the high-born characters and static ensembles and choruses. “Auber’s distinctive ‘élan’ and ‘esprit’ were part of a more direct idiom than that usually encountered at the Opéra in the 1820s.”[xlix] The music is consistently tuneful and full of verve, but it lacks the power of Halévy’s La Juive (1835) or Les Huguenots (1836). At times, its dance tunes and triplets seem too jolly, even lightweight, for a story of revolution. It belongs to that strange post-Rossinian, proto-Romantic period of the 1820s; its closest cousins are Herold’s Zampa (an opéra-comique that is almost a grand opéra) and Meyerbeer’s Robert-le-Diable (a grand opéra that began as an opéra-comique).

The dramatic, fiery overture is one of Auber’s best-known; the main theme (a jaunty march tune) is taken from the Act IV finale, and it ends in barnstorming fashion.

Act I takes place in the Viceroy’s gardens, Naples, decorated for Prince Alphonse and Elvire’s wedding. Alphonse, however, is gripped by remorse; he has seduced Fenella, daughter of a fisherman, under a false name, and abandoned her. He orders his lackey Lorenzo to search for her. Fenella has been held prisoner by the Viceroy for a month; she escaped that morning, and begs Elvire for her protection, which the kind-hearted noblewoman readily gives. The wedding takes place, but Fenella is distressed to recognise Alphonse as her lover. She publicly accuses him, then flees into the crowd.

Act I scene V – Louise G. Source: Gallica.

A chorus celebrating Alphonse’s upcoming nuptials leads into the prince’s Italianate aria (No. 1: Introduction et Air). A brief chorus (No. 2) hails the entrance of Elvire; her aria (No. 3: ‘Plaisirs du rang suprême’) is a Rossinian cavatina, a coloratura showpiece with a plaintive andante and a rather chirpy allegro. Two ballets follow: a guarache and a bolero. The best piece in the act is the Chœur de la chapelle: ‘O Dieu puissant, ô Dieu tutélaire’ (No. 4), a serene allegro moderato chorus in the line of La Vestale, sung by the people at prayer. The finale (No. 5) includes a rather good frozen ensemble, ‘O funeste mystère!’.

Act II is set in Portici, on the coast between Naples and Vesuvius, described as “a picturesque site”. The act begins with a genre scene: the fishermen prepare their nets and boats, or play games. Their chorus, ‘Amis, le soleil va paraître’ (No. 6), is an attractive allegro vivace number. Masaniello sings the Barcarolle, ‘Amis, la matinée est belle’ (No. 7); while describing the fishermen hunting their prey, it is also a metaphor to be prepared to bide their time and seize the moment for revolution when it comes. The melody – here a delightful allegretto – later appears in the act as a call to arms, or as an ironic commentary on Masaniello’s fate.

Masaniello wants vengeance on his sister’s ravisher, and he and his friend Piétro sing the opera’s most famous number, the patriotic duo, ‘Mieux vaut mourir que rester miserable!’ (No. 8).

This rousing number was adopted by revolutionaries, from Belgian nationalists to hot-headed German students.[l] Rossini exclaimed: “I have never written anything so beautiful!”[li]

Fenella runs on, and wants to end her life. Masaniello learns that her lover was of high rank, and calls his comrades to arms; they hide their weapons in the fruit baskets, and set off to Naples. The finale (No. 9), ‘Venez, amis, venez partager mes transports!’ is an exciting, stirring number; the barcarolle is reprised as a menacing chorus.

Act II, scene 3: Masaniello and Fenella. Lithograph by E. Kaeppelin. Source: Gallica.

Act III opens in a palace apartment, with Alphonse and Elvire’s duet, ‘N’espérez pas me fuir’ (No. 10), a rather patchy number. (The Journal des débats considered it insignificant.) Alphonse persuades Elvire to forgive him, but she insists that Fenella be brought to her, so she can make amends.

The scene changes to the Naples marketplace; the villagers and lazzaroni dance while the fishermen bring in their goods. Fenella sits quietly apart, and watches abstractedly. The marketplace chorus, ‘Au marché qui vient de s’ouvrir’ (No. 10), is a brilliant patter chorus; it was the model for the similar market scene in DelibesLakmé 55 years later.

More dancing: a tarantelle. One of the Viceroy’s soldiers recognises Fenella, and seizes her; Masaniello stabs a soldier, and the revolt begins. The finale (No. 12) contains a beautiful andante prayer: ‘Saint bienheureux, dont le divine image’; the music is the Da nobis pacem of one of Auber’s early masses, written in Chimay. The tocsin bell sounds, and the people seize torches and rush to burn down the palace – a noisy if effective ending.

The Act III finale. Lithograph by Engelmann, after Cicéri. Source: Gallica.

Act IV is set in Masaniello’s cabin, in Portici – perhaps the first time a fisherman’s cabin had been shown on the stage of the Opéra. (A cut scene shows the principal citizens of Naples begging Masaniello to control the mob, but he is adamant; they were deaf to mercy when they were in power.)

L’Album de l’Opéra, 1828. Source: Gallica.

Masaniello is disgusted with the people’s bloodthirstiness; the slaves have became tyrants in their turn. His aria (No. 13), ‘O Dieu! toi qui m’as destiné’, is one of La Muette’s rare solo scenes; although the vocal line is dramatic, the accompaniment seems inappropriately light. Masaniello learns that the Viceroy has taken refuge in the Castel Nuovo; Fenella enters, horrified by what she has seen: the burning palace, children killed by their mothers, brothers killing brothers. To comfort her, Masaniello sings a tender lullaby, ‘Du pauvre seul ami fidèle’.

Piétro and the people enter, pursuing Alphonse; they want to kill all the tyrants. Alphonse and Elvire seek refuge in the hut, not knowing that it belongs to Masaniello; Fenella admits them, but is seized by jealous rage; Elvire begs her for mercy. Her cavatine, ‘Arbitre d’une vie’ (No. 14), was thought too long. Overcome, Fenella swears to die with Alphonse and Elvire. Masaniello offers his hospitality, unaware that he is protecting his sister’s abuser. The magistrates come to offer Masaniello the keys of the city, and Piétro recognises Alphonse. This leads into a quartet (No. 15). Masaniello refuses to give up Alphonse and Elvire; the laws of hospitality forbid him, and he orders his lackey Borella to take them safely to the Castel Nuovo.

François Grenier de Saint-Martin. Source: Gallica

The people offer crowns and garlands to Masaniello, which he accepts; as he rides off to the palace, Piétro and his followers brandish their daggers, and swear to strike down the new tyrant.

After Cicéri. Source: Gallica.

The finale (No. 16: Marche et Chœur) is irresistible; it contains the march tune which formed the main theme of the overture – and which, according to Jouvin[lii], Auber thought of while shaving.

Act V closes the opera in the vestibule of the viceroy’s palace; in the distance, the audience can see Vesuvius. Piétro and his followers have finished an orgy; he sings a sinister version of Masaniello’s barcarolle (No. 17), ‘Voyez du haut de ces rivages’. Piétro has poisoned Masaniello to punish him for his treachery, and the fisherman has gone mad.

Masaniello’s mad scene. Louise G. Source: Gallica

In the finale (No. 18), the rebels learn that Alphonse has assembled a battalion and is marching on the palace; meanwhile, Vesuvius threatens to erupt – which the people take as a sign that Heaven wants to punish them. There follows a mad scene for the tenor: Masaniello, his wits lost, sings a garbled version of the Barcarolle, but recovers his senses long enough to lead his followers into battle against Alphonse. He dies offstage, rescuing Elvire from the mob. In despair, Fenella throws herself off a balcony at the same moment Vesuvius erupts in a maelstrom of fire and smoke. The terrified people beg God to forgive them.

La Muette was performed 489 times at the Paris Opéra between 1828 and 1882, with gaps between 1852–53, 1856–62, and 1872–78. Clément[liii] and Fétis[liv] considered it Auber’s masterpiece and one of the most beautiful and musically richest works of the period. The Revue et gazette musicale[lv] (1863) called the score a masterpiece of clear, frank, and simple melody, luminous as the sun. Berlioz[lvi] praised the work’s beautiful colouring and striking dramatic intention. The style of the opera was always young and lively, he thought; it was flooded with warmth and light; the blue sky of Naples is reflected in the blue sea.

Outside France, Letellier[lvii] notes, it was particularly popular in Germany (285 times in Berlin by 1898); it was the first successful French opera in Italy (Rome, 1847); and it was performed as far from Europe as Indonesia, the USA, Australia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Turkey, and Egypt. Liszt, however, thought it overrated: “short of breath and meanly cut … falls a long way short of Rossini”.[lviii]

The opera swiftly became associated with revolutions. It was performed at the Paris Opéra during the July Revolution of 1830 that led to the abdication of Charles X and the end of the Bourbon restoration. A performance a month later, at La Monnaie for the birthday of the Dutch king William I, is seen as the beginning of the Belgian Revolution; the largely Catholic, French-speaking Walloons, wanting independence from the Protestant, Dutch-speaking Netherlands, could see similarities between themselves and the Neapolitans under the Spanish yoke. They responded enthusiastically to the patriotic duet, while the revolt in Act III led many in the audience to rush out of the theatre, weapons in hand, to seize control of government buildings and newspapers. There were further uprisings in opera houses in the revolutionary year 1848, Letellier notes.[lix]

Auber himself, however, was rather skeptical of the political qualities of his work, Jouvin[lx] reports. “M. Auber,” the French minister Ledru-Rollin told him, “you only thought to compose a masterpiece, and you made a revolution: 1830 and the Trois Glorieuses!” Auber modestly replied that if the Opéra had performed Blaise et Babet (1783), a pastoral by Dezède, the July Revolution would still have taken place. In fact, Gerhard[lxi] argues, Scribe’s libretto was “unambivalently antirevolutionary”: “the revolutionary mob is an epitome of brutality and murderous blood-lust”, and the rebellion is put down at the end. Hibberd[lxii] sees the opera’s political message as “ambiguous”: the Neapolitan revolt is “pointless and distasteful in its violence”, but Auber vividly evokes “popular insurgence in the face of unjust oppression”. “The interweaving of personal and political themes and the nature of the visual and musical perspectives of the opera appear to have undermined its politically ‘safe’ libretto,” she states.

La Muette remains a difficult work for a modern listener to properly judge; the music is tuneful, but the opera was meant to be seen, as well as heard. We do not have the special effects, the dances, the crowd scenes that thrilled 1830s audiences, and thrilled them for 50 years more. But the work’s historical significance, its influence on later composers, cannot be denied.


  • Le Constitutionnel, 1 and 2 March 1828
  • Le Corsaire, 2 March 1828
  • Le Courrier français, 2 March 1828
  • Le Figaro, 2 March 1828
  • X.X.X., Journal des débats, 2 and 3 March 1828
  • Fétis, Revue musicale, Tome III, 1828
  • Edouard Monnais, Le Courrier français, 28 September 1837 
  • Joseph d’Ortigue, Le Ménestrel, 25 January 1863
  • Hector Berlioz, Journal des débats, 26 January 1863
  • Revue et gazette musicale, 25 January 1863
  • Camille Bellaigue, “Les époques de la musique: Le grand opéra français”, Revue des deux mondes, 1906
  • Julien Tiersot, Le Ménestrel, 16 March 1928
  • Patrick Barbier, Opera in Paris, 1800–1850: A Lively History, Amadeus Press, 1995
  • Castil-Blaze, L’Académie impériale de musique: histoire littéraire, musicale, politique et galante de ce théâtre, de 1645 à 1855, Volume 2, 1855
  • David Charlton, “The Nineteenth Century: France”, in Roger Parker (ed.), The Oxford History of Opera, Oxford University Press, 1996
  • Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869
  • F.J. Fétis, Biographe universelle des musiciens, Tome I, Paris: Firmin Didot, 1868
  • Anselm Gerhard, The Urbanization of Opera: Music Theater in Paris in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Mary Whittall, University of Chicago Press, 1998
  • Thomas Grey, “Richard Wagner and the legacy of French grand opera”, in David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opéra, Cambridge University Press
  • Sarah Hibberd, “La Muette and her context”, in David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opéra, Cambridge University Press
  • Benoît Jouvin, D.F.E. Auber, sa vie et ses œuvres, Paris: Heugel, 1864
  • Hervé Lacombe, “The ‘machine’ and the state”, in David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opéra, Cambridge University Press
  • Robert Ignatius Letellier¸ Daniel-François-Esprit Auber: The Man and His Music, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010
  • Eugène de Mirecourt, Auber, Paris: G. Harvard, 1857
  • Richard Wagner, “On German Music”, in Pilgrimage to Beethoven and Other Essays, University of Nebraska Press, 1994

[i] Robert Ignatius Letellier¸ Daniel-François-Esprit Auber: The Man and His Music, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, pp. 166–67.

[ii] X.X.X., Journal des débats, 2 March 1828 : « C’est un véritable triomphe pour le nouveau genre que l’on établit, et qui doit ramener la foule à un théâtre où l’on peut produire de grands effets, avec les moyens puissants que l’administration met à la disposition des auteurs… »

[iii] Hervé Lacombe, “The ‘machine’ and the state”, in David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opéra, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 25.

[iv] Fétis, Revue musicale, Tome III, 1828, pp. 135–36 : « Jamais l’Opéra n’avait monté un ouvrage plus soigné sous le rapport de la mise en scène, des ballets, des décorations et costumes, qui font le plus grand honneur à MM. Solomé, Aumer, Cicéri et Dùponchel. Ce qu’on à cherché surtout, c’est la vérité , et l’on doit convenir que rien n’a été négligé pour atteindre à ce but. … une mise en scène dont on n’avait point eu d’exemple jusqu’ici…»

[v] Le Constitutionnel, 2 March 1828: « Quant au spectacle, aux décorations, aux accessoires, aux ballets, aux costumes et à ce qu’on appelle la mise en scène, due à M. Salomé, jamais l’Opéra n’avait déployé plus de richesses, plus de luxe et plus dé goût. M. Ciceri a fait récemment un voyage à Naples, et c’est à Naples qu’il nous a transportés ; on reconnaissait les places, les édifices, le rivage, le beau ciel napolitain. »

[vi] Le Corsaire, 2 March 1828.

[vii] Castil-Blaze, L’Académie impériale de musique: histoire littéraire, musicale, politique et galante de ce théâtre, de 1645 à 1855, Volume 2, 1855, p. 207: « Le peuple des choristes est mis en mouvement et devient personnage principal. »

[viii] Le Courrier français, 2 March 1828: « C’est la première fois qu’on parvient à faire mouvoir avec grâce et vérité les figurants and les choristes qui jusqu’ici semblaient former un corps compacte. »

[ix] Patrick Barbier, Opera in Paris, 1800–1850: A Lively History, Amadeus Press, 1995, pp. 41, 77.

[x] Revue et gazette musicale, 25 January 1863 : « Pour compléter l’œuvre poétique et musicale, il ne fallait plus qu’une révolution dans la mise en scène, dans les costumes, et, précisément, parmi les artistes chargés de présider à ces détails, il s’en rencontra un qui fit ses débuts de la façon la plus brillante en habillant Fenella, Masaniello, ses frères et amis, les lazzaroni de Portici et de Naples, avec une exactitude et une vérité qui commencèrent par faire scandale. Cet artiste, c’était M. Duponchel, qui depuis s’est signalé par bien d’autres travaux de réforme pittoresque. Aujourd’hui, nous trouvons cela tout simple; mais alors quel étonnement, quel effroi même, en voyant que toutes les vestes n’étaient pas de la même couleur, ni taillées sur le même patron ! Chacun avait son costume, comme, dans le mouvement des masses, chacun avait sa démarche, son geste. Plus d’uniformes pour toutes les tailles, plus de choristes rangés en deux plates-bandes, et manœuvrant comme par ressorts! »

[xi] Julien Tiersot, Le Ménestrel, 16 March 1928: « La Muette de Portici, au moment où elle parut, était donc une œuvre vraiment neuve, comme tendance et comme réalisation. Pour la première fois, on y voyait mettre en action un sujet qui n’était plus celui des anciennes tragédies, ni des pièces galantes à la mode depuis le xvme siècle, sujet tiré de l’histoire moderne, véritable drame… »

[xii] Edouard Monnais, Le Courrier français, 28 September 1837 : « Un genre nouveau y fut introduit. Jusqu’alors on s’en était tenu à la tragédie pure, dans sa noblesse et sa séverité classique : Œdipe et la Vestale passaient pour des types invariables, dont la féerie seule avait le droit de s’écarter. Avec la Muette, le drame varié dans ses formes, le drame accessible à tous les intérêts grands et petits, à toutes les émotions tristes et joyeuses, s’aventura sur le sol foulé par les dieux et les héros ; avec Mazaniello, le peuple envahit le domaine réservé aux pontifes et aux rois, aux nymphes et aux princesses. »

[xiii] Revue et gazette musicale, 25 January 1863 : « Quel auteur plus capable que Scribe de trouver ces choses si nécessaires et de remettre l’opéra sur un pied tout nouveau? Avant lui, le libretto n’était que le bâtard de la tragédie classique : M. Jouy l’avait compris ainsi dans la Vestale; et dans Fernand Cortez, où il s’était un peu écarté de son idéal, il n’a jamais pu parvenir à mettre d’aplomb ses trois actes, qui changeaient de place à volonté. M. Jouy est pourtant notre meilleur librettiste depuis Quinault et Gentil Bernard; mais une révolution était indispensable dans ce genre, et c’est à Scribe que nous la devons. … Le libretto était descendu de ses échasses ; il avait quitté les hauteurs de l’Olympe et des palais pour nous montrer de simples pêcheurs, des gens du peuple, mêlés aux princes et aux grands. »

[xiv] Revue et gazette musicale, 25 January 1863 : « La conception lyrique des auteurs de la Muette fut bien plus profondément révolutionnaire : par son libretto. par sa musique, par ses costumes et sa mise en scène elle exerça une influence qui ne sera pas moins durable qu’elle fut vive et soudaine. »

[xv] Barbier, op. cit., p. 76.

[xvi] Richard Wagner, “On German Music”, in Pilgrimage to Beethoven and Other Essays, University of Nebraska Press, 1994, p. 100.

[xvii] Wagner, ‘Reminiscences of Auber’, quoted in Thomas Grey, “Richard Wagner and the legacy of French grand opera”, in Charlton (ed.), Cambridge Guide, p. 322.

[xviii] Le Constitutionnel, 2 March 1828: « Un opéra en cinq actes qui n’est point ennuyeux, c’est presque une merveille; poëme et musique, tout a donc obtenu un de ces succès qui promettent à l’Académie royale de musique une vogue après laquelle elle court vainement depuis long-temps. »

[xix] Journal des débats, 3 March 1828: « Cette pièce présente beaucoup d’action et de mouvement et une grande variété de tableaux. »

[xx] Fétis, Revue musicale, 1828, p. 133: « Dans cet ouvrage, dont le premier acte paraît seulement un peu trop long, l’intérêt ne languit point, A chaque acte, les scènes sont disposées avec art pour amener un finale plein d’effet et des tableaux d’une couleur différente. »

[xxi] Camille Bellaigue, “Les époques de la musique: Le grand opéra français”, Revue des deux mondes, 1906: « S’il est une qualité proprement dramatique et qu’on ne puisse refuser à la musique de l’opéra français, c’est le mouvement. La Muette elle-même ne languit ni ne traîne jamais. Au contraire elle est comme emportée en un perpétuel tourbillon. »

[xxii] Sarah Hibberd, “La Muette and her context”, in Charlton (ed.), Cambridge Companion, p. 163.

[xxiii] Anselm Gerhard, The Urbanization of Opera: Music Theater in Paris in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Mary Whittall, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 134.

[xxiv] Gerhard, op. cit., p. 134.

[xxv] Hibberd, op. cit., p. 166.

[xxvi] Eugène de Mirecourt, Auber, Paris: G. Harvard, 1857, pp. 39–43.

[xxvii] See Revue et gazette musicale, 25 January 1863.

[xxviii] Journal des débats, 3 March 1828 : « J’ai déjà parlé des fragments de symphonie qui servent d’interprètes aux gestes de la Muette ; c’est une partie très essentielle de l’opéra ; elle est traitée avec beaucoup d’esprit, de talent, de justesse. Malgré tout cela, j’avoue que j’aimerai mieux que Fenella parlât ; le silence de ce personnage porte le plus grand préjudice aux morceaux d’ensemble où sa voix devait prendre part. Si le nœud de la pièce, ou du moins celui d’une scène forte, dépendait de l’impuissance où se trouverait la Muette de révéler un secret important ; si on la condamnait injustement parce qu’on ne pourrait l’entendre, le mutisme de ce personnage ajouterait à l’intérêt. Mais, du moment où il n’y a pas une absolue nécessité de clore la bouche à Fenella, son silence constant est un dommage pour l’opéra, qui n’a pour appui que la voix d’un rôle secondaire pour les mélodies aigües. Ce rôle ne tient presque pas à l’action; il n’est point passionné, il concerte avec des gestes que l’orchestre explique avec vigueur, puisque c’est lui qui parle réellement; les instruments se modèrent ensuite pour accompagner la voix qui répond au langage muet de Fenella; cela fait une suite de contrastes dont l’uniformité n’est point agréable ; ajoutons encore que les gestes de la Muette sont outrés; ce n’est point un défaut dans le dialogue mimique, mais ces gestes adressés à des personnages parlants, qui répondent en ouvrant la bouche et sans agiter leurs bras, ont quelque chose d’étrange. J’aimerais mieux que la Muette chantât, ne fût-ce que le second dessus et même le contralte, l’effet musical serait infiniment meilleur. »

[xxix] Castil-Blaze, op. cit., p. 207: « Introduire une muette dans un drame lyrique est une maladresse. Le silence forcé de Fenella porte un notable préjudice aux combinaisons du musicien , appauvrit, éborgne les morceaux d’ensemble. C’est un défaut sans doute, mais ce défaut, tout grave qu’il soit , a porté bonheur à la pièce , dans un pays où l’on n’aime pas la musique. »

[xxx] Benoît Jouvin, D.F.E. Auber, sa vie et ses œuvres, Paris: Heugel, 1864, p. 38 : « une gageure bien mieux qu’à une innovation originale »

[xxxi] Fétis, Revue musicale, 1828, pp. 133–34 : « L’idée originale de faire l’exposition par la muette, a été l’objet de quelques critiques qui ne me paraissent pas fondées. Le mélange du mélodrame au chant ne peut déplaire qu’à ceux qui ne comprennent pas le langage de la musique instrumentale. D’ailleurs, ce rôle de muette est une innovation dans un opéra ; c’est un moyen de variété, et dans un temps où l’on demande surtout du nouveau, ou aurait mauvaise grâce de faire une querelle aux auteurs pour avoir réuni dans le même ouvrage les avantages de l’opéra et du ballet. »

[xxxii] Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869: « Le mérite le plus singulier de la partition, et peut-être celui qu’on remarque le moins, est d’avoir exprimé, avec toute la précision dont la langue musicale est susceptible, les sentiments que la pauvre Fenella ne peut exprimer que par ses gestes. »

[xxxiii] Barbier, op. cit., p. 76.

[xxxiv] Jouvin, op. cit., , p. 38 : « L’illustre maître a souvent déclaré à ses amis que, lorsque la lièvre de la composition l’eut abandonné, et que sa plume, assouvie de mélodies, eut tracé l’accord final, il lui sembla que rien ne chanterait plus désormais dans son cerveau et dans son imagination; pendant plusieurs mois, il fut pris d’une lassitude qu’il n’avait jamais ressentie jusque-là, et qu’il n’éprouvera plus à l’avenir : il eût été incapable d’avoir une idée et d’assembler les caractères de la première phrase venue en musique. »

[xxxv] Mirecourt, op. cit, p. 42 : « La critique anéantie baissa le front et laissa tomber sa plume. »

[xxxvi] Mirecourt, op. cit., p. 43.

[xxxvii] Mirecourt, op. cit., pp. 43­–44 : « À présent, dit Auber à Scribe, messieurs les journalistes vont se taire, j’imagine. Retournons à l’Opéra-Comique. »

[xxxviii] Jouvin, op. cit., p. 38.

[xxxix] Le Constitutionnel, 2 March 1828: « On trouvera le premier acte trop long , le quatrième trop nul, le cinquième trop diffus; mais on donnera presque sans restriction des éloges au second et au troisième. Ils sont dramatiques; la force des situations, l’intérêt pressant qui les distingue, ont inspiré le compositeur qui, dans une invocation à la liberté, dans une prière sans accompagnement, et dans deux ou trois morceaux d’ensemble qui ont excité d’unanimes transports, s’est élevé à une grande hauteur de talent. Ces deux actes, auxquels il faut joindre l’ouverture, placent M. Auber presqu’au niveau de ceux de nos compositeurs français qui sommeillent à l’Institut. »

[xl] Le Corsaire, 1 and 2 March 1828.

[xli] Le Figaro, 2 March 1828.

[xlii] Fétis, Revue musicale, Tome III, 1828, p. 134: « Abandonnant franchement les tracée de la manière rossinienne, et rentrant dans le style qui lui est propre , M. Auber s’est placé, par la musique de la Muette de Portici, sur la première ligne des musiciens français. On y reconnaît l’auteur des jolis opéras de la Bergère châtelaine, d’Emma, de la Neige, etc., mais plus vigoureux, plus énergique qu’il ne s’était montré jusqu’ici, ce qui n’a point exclu de sa musique la grâce et la fraîcheur. Son instrumentation , brillante sans tapage, est toujours nette et franchement arrêtée. On n’y trouve point de tâtonnement, point d’incertitude : tout y annonce au contraire un homme habile qui produit les effets qu’il veut obtenir. »

[xliii] Fétis, Revue musicale, Tome III, 1828, 180 : « Les qualités qu’on y remarque sont si brillantes, qu’elles suffisent pour la classer parmi les productions qui font le plus d’honneur à l’école française. »

[xliv] Monnais, Courrier français, 28 September 1837: « Le premier de nos compositeurs français, M. Auber soutint sur la grande scène lyrique la concurrence des maîtres étrangers. Inférieur à celui-ci pour la largeur et l’abondance, à celui-là pour la profondeur et l’audace, il avait, comme mérite spécial, une invention fine et spirituelle, capable de s’élever à la vigueur, une singulière élégance de style, un sentiment exquis des sympathies, des exigences, de la portée de ses auditeurs. Sa musique est de la musique française dans toute l’acception du mot, et Dieu nous garde de l’employer dans le sens du blâme! »

[xlv] Castil-Blaze, op. cit., p. 208: « La Muette est un grand opera dans de petites proportions, un opéra comique avec récitatifs et sans finale, sans prima donna, puisqu’elle exécute un tacet continu. »

[xlvi] Le Figaro, 2 March 1828 :  « En revanche, les petits airs, les barcarolles, les couplets et le récitatif remplissent tous les vides de l’ouvrage. »

[xlvii] Joseph d’Ortigue, Le Ménestrel, 25 January 1863: « M. Auber, non pas simplement un grand compositeur, mais, ce qu’on ne soupçonnait pas en lui, un compositeur qui fait du grand, qui trouve de larges et belles inspirations. Oui, en 1828, il s’est rencontré des critiques, d’ailleurs fort habiles, qui ont écrit que la Muette était un opéra comique transplanté à l’Opéra, une enfilade de scènes d’opéra comique liées entre elles au moyen d’un récitatif. Eh bien ! je proteste contre cette opinion. M. Auber a montré dans la Muette que s’il sait, quand il lui plaît, faire de la petite musique en grand musicien, il sait aussi faire de la grande musique en non moins grand musicien, c’est-à-dire agrandir sa pensée avec la situation dramatique et agrandir la forme avec sa pensée. »

[xlviii] Hibberd, op. cit., pp. 164–65.

[xlix] Hibberd, op. cit., p. 163.

[l] Gerhard, op. cit., p. 129.

[li] Quoted in Mirecourt, p. 43 : « Je n’ai rien fait d’aussi beau ! »

[lii] Jouvin, op. cit., p. 46.

[liii] Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869: « Dès les premières représentations de cet ouvrage, on s’est accordé à le proclamer le chef-d’œuvre d’Auber, et à le placer au premier rang des œuvres lyriques. Après trente-cinq ans, pendant lesquels bien des opéras de genres différents ont été représentés, ce rang lui a été conservé. L’opéra de la Muette est d’une richesse extrême. Airs, duos, prières, cavatines, barcarolles, chœurs, airs de danse, orchestration, tout a du caractère et est du plus grand effet. »

[liv] F.J. Fétis, Biographe universelle des musiciens, Tome I, Paris: Firmin Didot, 1868, p. 163.

[lv] Revue et gazette musicale, 25 January 1863 : « Sa partition de la Muette est un chef-d’œuvre accompli de mélodie claire, franche et facile, lumineuse comme le soleil. »

[lvi] Hector Berlioz, Journal des débats, 26 January 1863 : « Le style de cet opéra est toujours jeune et alerte, quoi qu’en dise l’auteur lui-même, qui a tant d’esprit, qu’il se plaît à donner carrière à ses fines railleries à propos de ses propres œuvres. Non, la partition de la Muette n’est pas comme une de ces vieilles maîtresses qu’on retrouve après vingt ans et qui ont la patte d’oie. C’est toujours la séduisante Fenella dont la grâce explique le crime du prince napolitain. Tout dans cette œuvre est inondé de chaleur et de lumière ; le ciel bleu de Naples s’y reflète dans la mer bleue ; ce peuple se précipite, chante, rugit, bondit avec une énergie qui ne fut jamais plus grande ; ces lazzaroni ont toujours dix-huit ans ; ces brunes jeunes filles d’Ischia et de Procida sont toujours belles ; les vignes du Pausilippe sont chargées de grappes mûres. Peut-être quelques parties de l’orchestration seraient-elles traitées d’autre sorte si l’auteur les écrivait aujourd’hui. Mais on a écouté avec le plaisir qu’on éprouvait à les entendre il y a trente-cinq ans tout le rôle de la princesse, ces nombreux morceaux depuis si longtemps populaires, le célèbre duo : « Amour sacré de la patrie », la magnifique prière : « Saint bien heureux » et les airs de danse, et la musique descriptive des pantomimes de Fenella, et cette admirable scène du marché, un chef-d’œuvre, et le grand récit mesuré dans lequel on vient raconter la démence de Masaniello et les symptômes d’une prochaine éruption du Vésuve, et la marche éblouissante, et vingt autres passages d’un si beau coloris, d’une si saisissante intention dramatique. »

[lvii] Letellier¸ op. cit., pp. 170–73.

[lviii] Gerhard, op. cit., p. 139.

[lix] Letellier, op. cit., p. 170.

[lx] Jouvin, op. cit., pp. 43–44.

[lxi] Gerhard, op. cit., p. 128.

[lxii] Hibberd, op. cit., p. 166.

20 thoughts on “208. La Muette de Portici (Auber)

  1. Auber is awaiting rediscovery, but every work I’ve heard is strong. And his integration of the chorus is not only evident, but a clear model for Offenbach and Sullivan. Le domino noir is my favorite opera, and various choruses — tipsy party guests, gossipy nuns — partake in nearly half the numbers. It is glorious music. Also, his Manon Lescaut is my favorite version of that story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Gregory! Auber’s music is delightful – memorable melodies and elegant orchestration.

      I’ll work my way through Auber over the next few weeks. Fra Diavolo and Le cheval de bronze are my two favourites.

      Is Le domino noir your favourite Auber, or your favourite, period? The overture and the Act II (?) finale (the dinner scene) are, as you say, glorious.

      I prefer Massenet’s Manon; the Compiègne version of Auber’s is confusing, from memory; it doesn’t quite match up with the score. But the overture and laughing song are excellent.

      There are signs of a rediscovery – Fra Diavolo was put on in Rome in 2017, Le domino noir in Paris in 2018, and Dario Salvi has recorded five volumes of Auber’s overtures, Looks like La Muette will be put on in Kassel in summer.


      1. Hello Nick! Le domino noir is my favorite opera, period. I don’t think there is a weak number in the whole piece. To be honest, this will change with my mood, the weather, etc. I do tend to go back to it rather frequently though. One of my pandemic projects has been exploring what opéra comique is available, and I’ve discovered that it may just be my favorite opera genre. La dame blanche, Le toréador, Le chalet, Fra diavolo and Manon Lescaut have been delightful surprises.


      2. La dame blanche is one of my favourite operas; the overture is wonderfully refreshing – tuneful, lucid – and the auction scene is a brilliant ensemble.

        Have you heard Le postillon de Lonjumeau? There’s a nice production on Medici with Michael Spyres. Le toréador is a delight, but I find Le chalet a bit bland. More news on Adam later this year.

        Herold is very good, too. Le Pré-aux-clercs and Zampa are the best known, but Le muletier has a really spirited tenor aria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPBiPH8K2NU

        There are some gems in 18th century opéra-comique, too: Monsigny (I love Le roi et le fermier) and Grétry (very uneven, but Richard Cœur-de-lion and Raoul Barbe-bleue are good). Cherubini is great, but his opéras-comiques are more serious (Médée isn’t exactly cheerful!).

        And Offenbach is brilliant.

        I suppose, though, that musicals have taken their place in popular taste; lighter, ‘fun’ operas are rarely given.


  2. The music for Le postillon is gorgeous, but that plot! I really can’t complain about plots. Le toreador is basically an excuse to pit a soprano against a flute. Le chalet would be hard to stage today, forced marriage wouldn’t was with modern audiences. It was interesting to hear and pick up on the musical quote in Ba-ta-clan.

    I have not heard any Herold, something to explore. Grétry has written some gems, like Richard and Barbe-bleue. Also L’amant Jaloux and Zémire et Azor (Beauty and the Beast). I play the viola d’amore, and I was surprised to find musical quotations from this opera in some of the viola d’amore music of Carl Stamitz. Nothing that has been recorded or that anyone would recognize, but interesting. Grétry’s La Caravane du Caire is my favorite of his. I haven’t seen it, but it is a wonderful listening experience. His ballet music is so varied in style and tuneful. I have no idea if it works on the stage, but it used to be a popular work.


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