Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)

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01The Apprentice20130429

Donald Macleod focuses on Meyerbeer's apprentice years.

The passage of time has not been kind to Giacomo Meyerbeer. The most successful opera composer of his day, whose transformation of the medium helped to set the stage for Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky and a host of others, his work is now seldom performed. All this week, Donald Macleod explores the life and rediscovers the work of this king of Grand Opera, in conversation with one of the composer's leading advocates, Robert Letellier.

Born Jacob Liebmann Beer (the prefatory 'Meyer' was added on the death of his maternal grandfather, Liebmann Meyer Wulff), Meyerbeer's family background was super-rich and hyper-cultured, so there was no obstacle to the development of his precocious talents. In 1815, his good friend Carl Maria von Weber pronounced him "one of the best pianists, if not the best pianist of our time". His ambitions, however, lay not on the concert platform but on the operatic stage, and in 1816, after a decade of study, he left his native Berlin for Italy, where a short visit turned into a protracted stay - of eight years. Here, with Rossini in the ascendant, he learnt the craft of Italian opera during one of its most dynamic phases. Today's programme focuses on these apprentice years, from Meyerbeer's earliest compositional efforts as a student of the celebrated Abbé Vogler in Darmstadt, to his first international success with his farewell to Italian opera, Il crociato in Egitto.

'Udite or alto arcano', from Il crociato in Egitto, act 2 scene 20

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir (chorus master: Geoffrey Mitchell)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

David Parry (conductor)

OPERA RARA ORC10 CD 4 tk 5

6 canzonettes italiennes (1810) - nos 1, 3, 4 and 6

1. Sceglier fra mille un core

3. Giura il nocchier

4. Bei labbri che amore

6. Basta dir ch'io sono amante

Ning Liang (mezzo-soprano)

Ilmo Ranta (piano)

CPO 999 269-2 tks 6, 8, 9, 11

Quintet in E flat for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello (1812) - 3rd mvt (Rondo)

Dieter Klöcker (clarinet)

Philharmonia Quartet Berlin:

Daniel Stabrawa (violin 1)

Christian Stadelmann (violin 2)

Neithard Resa (viola),

Jan Diesselhorst (cello)

ORFEO C 213 901 A tk 1

Wirth und Gast (Alimalek) (1813) - overture

Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra

Ola Rudner (conductor)

ARS PRODUKTION ARS 38 083 tk 3

Margherita d'Anjou (1820) - Act 1 scene 2 (opening) ('Miei fedeli!')

Annick Massis (Margherita)

Alastair Miles (Carlo)

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra

OPERA RARA ORC25 CD 1 tks 3-4

Il crociato in Egitto (1824) - Act 2 scene 17 (concl.)-18 ('Suona funerea')

Bruce Ford (Adriano)

Ian Platt (Aladino)

Della Jones (Felicia)

Ugo Benelli (Osmino)

OPERA RARA ORC10 CD 3 tks 17-20

Producer: Chris Barstow.

02Devilry And Carnage - A Grand Night Out20130430

Donald Macleod on Meyerbeer's success in Paris with Robert le Diable and Les Huguenots.

The passage of time has not been kind to Giacomo Meyerbeer. The most successful opera composer of his day, whose transformation of the medium helped to set the stage for Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky and a host of others, his work is now seldom performed. All this week, Donald Macleod explores the life and rediscovers the work of this king of Grand Opera, in conversation with one of the composer's leading advocates, Robert Letellier.

Today's programme sees Meyerbeer in Paris, at the invitation of Rossini, who had recently been installed as director of the Théâtre Italien there. Meyerbeer's first two Parisian productions were of operas he had composed during his time in Italy, but before long he was being commissioned to write something brand new for the temple of French music drama - the Opéra. This was Robert le diable, Robert the devil, the tale of a childless woman to whom the devil grants her dearest wish - a son. Robert is a bad boy who eventually repents, but not before he's got up to some mischief, including a graveyard encounter with a pack of zombie nuns, whose ballet shocked and thrilled the Paris of 1831 - and, in due course, cities across the globe. Chopin pronounced the opera a masterpiece, Berlioz praised its orchestration, and Liszt was so taken with it that he composed a fantasy on its themes: Réminiscences de Robert le diable. Meyerbeer's next opera opened to an expectant house on the 29th of February 1836. To say that audiences were not disappointed with Les Huguenots, a tale of political and religious conflict that must have struck a clanging chord in that age of revolutions, would be putting it mildly; it went on to become probably the most successful opera of the 19th century, and its influence can be felt in works as disparate as Die Meistersinger, Don Carlo and Khovanshchina.

Robert le Diable (1831) - conclusion of Act 1 ("Malheur sans égal")

Giorgio Surian (Bertram)

Warren Mok (Robert)

Bratislava Chamber Choir (chorus master: Pavol Procházka)

Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia

Renato Palumbo (conductor)

DYNAMIC CDS 368/1-3 CD 1 tk 11

Robert le Diable (1831) - Act 3 scene 7

DYNAMIC CDS 368/1-3 CD 2 tks 11-19

Les Huguenots (1836) - Act 3, opening ('C'est le jour du dimanche')

John Wakefield (Bois-Rosé)

Nicola Ghiuselev (Marcel)

New Philharmonia Orchestra

Richard Bonynge (conductor)

DECCA 430 549-2 CD 3 tks 1-2

Les Huguenots (1836) - Act 3, extract ('Rentrez, habitants de Paris')

Martina Arroyo (Valentine)

Ambrosian Opera Chorus

DECCA 430 549-2 CD 3 tks 5-7

Producer: Chris Barstow.

03Interval20130501

Donald Macleod on how Meyerbeer occupied himself between Les Huguenots and Le prophete.

The passage of time has not been kind to Giacomo Meyerbeer. The most successful opera composer of his day, whose transformation of the medium helped to set the stage for Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky and a host of others, his work is now seldom performed. All this week, Donald Macleod explores the life and rediscovers the work of this king of Grand Opera, in conversation with one of the composer's leading advocates, Robert Letellier.

Thirteen years separate Meyerbeer's second French opera, Les Huguenots, from his third, Le prophète, whose appearance suffered a protracted delay due to a serious disagreement over casting. Meyerbeer certainly wasn't one to sit around doing nothing, though, and today's programme examines how he occupied himself during this hiatus - with a particular focus on his output of songs, many of which were mini-dramas. In 1842, Meyerbeer was appointed Generalmusikdirektor of Prussia, in which role he wrote a German-language opera, Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (for the opening of the new Berlin Opera, after the old one had burnt down), as well as music for official court occasions, like his sequence of Fackeltänze - torch marches. It was Meyerbeer's advocacy at this time that secured Wagner the Dresden premières of his operas Rienzi and The Flying Dutchman - a favour Wagner was to return a few years later with a series of blisteringly personal anti-Semitic attacks.

Der Garten des Herzens (1839)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)

Karl Engel (piano)

DG 00289 477 5270 CD 8 tk 5

Sequence of songs

- Komm, du schönes Fischermädschen (1837)

- La fille de l'air (1837)

- Mina (?1837)

- Sicilienne (?1845)

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)

Melvyn Tan (fortepiano)

ARCHIV 469 074-2 tks 2, 4, 1, 5

Fackeltänz (Torch Dance) no.1 in B flat (1844)

North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hanover

Michail Jurowski (conductor)

CPO 999 168-2 tk 4

- Menschenfeindlich (1837)

- Scirocco (1837)

- Ständchen (1840)

- Sie und Ich (1835)

DG 00289 477 5270 CD 8 tks 1, 13, 7, 10

Struensee (1846) - overture

CPO 999 336-2 tk 1

Producer: Chris Barstow.

04A Change Of Tack20130502

Donald Macleod on Meyerbeer's happy return to Paris with Le prophete and L'etoile du nord.

The passage of time has not been kind to Giacomo Meyerbeer. The most successful opera composer of his day, whose transformation of the medium helped to set the stage for Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky and a host of others, his work is now seldom performed. All this week, Donald Macleod explores the life and rediscovers the work of this king of Grand Opera, in conversation with one of the composer's leading advocates, Robert Letellier.

After the colossal success of his first two French operas, Robert le diable and Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer was keen to produce a third work in the same vein, to ensure that his "system" of music drama was based on "indestructible pillars". This turned out to be Le prophète, first staged in 1849, which itself proved to be a pillar of the operatic repertoire until well into the 20th century. Like Les Huguenots, Le prophète has a basis in historical fact - an Anabaptist revolt that took place in Münster in the 1530s, doubtless given added resonance to first-run audiences by the European-wide unrest of the previous year. Add to this Meyerbeer's most impressively through-composed music to date, the opera's epic scale, and the no-expenses-spared production of the Paris Opéra - including a ballet danced on specially designed roller skates (to simulate the effect of dancing on ice) and the first theatrical use of an electric arc lamp (to simulate a sunrise) - and it's no surprise that audiences didn't know what had hit them. Perhaps the composer realized that he had gone as far as he could in this direction, because for his next operatic project, L'étoile du nord, he turned instead to the gentler medium of comic opera.

Le prophète (1849) - Act 3, scene 1 (extract) - waltz from Skaters' ballet

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Henry Lewis (conductor)

CBS MSK 79400 CD 2 tk 5

Le prophète (1849) - Act 2 (complete)

Marilyn Horne (Fidès)

James McCracken (Jean)

Christian du Plessis (Mathisen)

Jean Dupouy (Jonas)

Jerome Hines (Zacharie)

Nicholas Webb (1st child)

Mark Richardson (2nd child)

Assorted anabaptists and citizens. Vernon Midgley, Leslie Fyson,

Neilson Taylor, Bruce Ogston

Ambrosian Opera Chorus (John McCarthy, dir)

Boys Choir, Haberdashers' Aske's School, Elstree (Alan Taylor, dir)

CBS MSK 79400 CD 1 tks 10-18

L'étoile du nord (1854) - Act 3, finale

Elizabeth Futral (Catherine)

Aled Hall (Danilowitz)

Juan Diego Flórez (George)

Darina Takova (Prascovia)

Vladimir Ognev (Peter)

Wexford Festival Opera Chorus (chorus master: Lubomir Matl)

National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)

MARCO POLO 8.223829-31 CD 3 tk 8

Producer: Chris Barstow.

05 LASTSwansong20130503

Donald Macleod on another comic opera, Dinorah, and Meyerbeer's swansong, L'Africaine.

The passage of time has not been kind to Giacomo Meyerbeer. The most successful opera composer of his day, whose transformation of the medium helped to set the stage for Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky and a host of others, his work is now seldom performed. All this week, Donald Macleod explores the life and rediscovers the work of this king of Grand Opera, in conversation with one of the composer's leading advocates, Robert Letellier.

The final programme of the week is devoted to Meyerbeer's last two music dramas: Dinorah, a gentle Breton love story intertwined with a yarn about a hunt for cursed treasure; and L'Africaine - The African Woman - an operatic epic conjuring up imagined, even fantastical events in the life of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Meyerbeer died the day after he finished his fair copy of the full score, leaving instructions that the work was to remain unstaged should he not be around to oversee its production; his wishes were ignored, and L'Africaine took to the stage a year later, in a practical performing edition by the Belgian composer and musicologist, François-Joseph Fétis.

Dinorah (1859) - Act 2 scene 1 ('Qu'il est bon')

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir

Philharmonia Orchestra

James Judd (conductor)

OPERA RARA ORC5 CD 2 tk 1

Dinorah (1859) - Act 2 scenes 3-6

Deborah Cook (Dinorah)

Christian du Plessis (Hoël)

Alexander Oliver (Corentin)

OPERA RARA ORC5 CD 2 tks 3-7

Dinorah (1859) - Act 2 scenes 7 (conclusion)-8

OPERA RARA ORC5 CD 2 tks 9-11

L'Africaine (1865) - Act 5 final scene

Martina Arroyo (Sélika)

Sherrill Milnes (Nélusko)

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Gerd Albrecht (conductor)

MYTO 3 MCD 011.235 CD 3 tks 8-9

Producer: Chris Barstow.