Born: Aix-en-Province, baptised 4 December 1660
Died: Paris, 29 June 1744
Campra was the leading opera composer between Lully and Rameau. A Provençal, he began as a church musician, rising to become chapel master at Notre Dame de Paris.
He made his name with two ballet-operas: L’Europe galante (1697) and Le Carnaval de Venise (1699).
“A musician was born in France, a true dramatic musician,” Pougin proclaimed, “who for more than 30 years would be spoken of, and occupied the stage until Rameau came as a conqueror.”
These two works are, according to Pougin, light, entertaining, witty, closer to musical comedy than lyric drama. Le Carnaval sounds like it could actually be quite fun: a mixture of commedia dell’arte, plays within plays, and Italian and French styles.
They were published under his brother Joseph’s name. It was an open secret; everyone knew André was the composer, and the Archbishop turned a blind eye, but not a deaf ear.
After the Carnaval‘s smash success, Campra left the cathedral, and dedicated himself to the lyric stage, becoming chief conductor at the Opéra.
His first tragédie lyrique was Hésione (1700), again a success. Campra,
Pougin wrote, replaced the conventional pomp of this rigid stage, the weighty phraseology honoured since Lully, with a style full of warmth, and natural and true characterization. “He introduced movement and life, those two essentials of theatre; he made passion speak; and behind the elegant art of an inspired musician, the spectator felt the heart of a man – and counted, so to speak, its beat.”
The next opera, Aréthuse ou la Vengeance de l’Amour , was a flop; one critic thought the best way to improve it was to lengthen the dances and shorten the dancers’ skirts.
Their next work avenged the failure. It was Tancrède, considered Campra’s masterpiece.
Later works included the first Iphigénie en Tauride and Idoménée.
- L’Europe galante, opéra-ballet (1697)
- Le carnaval de Venise, opéra-ballet (1699)
- Hésione, tragédie en musique (1700)
- Aréthuse, opéra-ballet (1701)
- Tancrède, tragédie en musique (1702)
- Les muses, opéra-ballet (1703)
- Iphigénie en Tauride, tragédie en musique (1704)
- Télémaque, tragédie en musique pastiche (1704)
- Alcine, tragédie en musique (1705)
- Hippodamie, tragédie en musique (1708)
- Les fêtes vénitiennes, opéra-ballet (1710)
- Idoménée, tragédie en musique (1712)
- Télèphe, tragédie en musique (1713)
- Énée et Didon, fête musicale (1714)
- Camille, reine des volsques, tragédie en musique (1717)
- Les âges, opéra-ballet (1718)
- Achille et Déidamie, tragédie en musique (1735)