An Obscure Opera Relishes the Spotlight

Classic Arts Features   An Obscure Opera Relishes the Spotlight
 
The revival of a long forgotten French opera was cheered by Parisian opera fans. Daniel-Fran‹ois-Esprit Auber's La Muette de Portici, which just finished a run at the Op_ra-Comique, has proven to be a celebrated success and a highlight of the season.


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French Baroque opera - Rameau, Lully, Charpentier and company - has returned to the regular season repertory for a few decades now. The Italians, Spanish and Germans have also brought back their neglected Baroque giants. But the period after, the early 19th Century, has largely remained on library shelves. It was during this period that the French dominated Europe's opera scene.

Could the success of "La Muette" change all that? Auber, when alive, was Europe's most famous opera composer and his 1828 opera was produced all around Europe. It was a favorite of the young Richard Wagner who found it full of "heat and fire" and it launched the format of "Grand Opera" with its five acts, ballet sequences and stirring finales.

The opera tells the story, based on an original event in 16th Century Italy, of a mute young woman who was used as a sex toy and discarded by a local prince. This silent role was a magnet for the top ballerinas of the period. When her brother, a fisherman from a small nearby port, learns the truth he and the townfolk start a protest and defeat the soldiers sent to quell the unpleasantness.

When this opera appeared in Brussels in 1830, as every Belgian child knows, the aria for tenor and baritone, "Amour sacr_ de la patrie" ("Sacred love of the fatherland"), produced a commotion in the hall and it immediately became the anthem of those who sought liberation from the Dutch. Belgium was founded just some months later.

The production, by the edgy Italian director Emma Dante, featured a series of movable doors which highlights the class divisions. The casting was solid with a major cheering for the American tenor Michael Spyres as the mute's brother, Masaniello.

Will this triumph cause a further interest at that period of French opera? Will we be seeing more Hal_vy, M_hul, Spontini and Meyerbeer? H_rold's opera, "Zampa" was seen last season at the Comique and a rare revival of Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots" had had considerable success in the last few months in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Time will tell.

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