Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Friday, July 5

Meyerbeer at the Opera

Synopsis

For opera composers of the 19th century, Paris—not Vienna, Milan, or Berlin—was the center of the operatic universe. Money had a lot to do with that, since the Paris Opera paid better than anyone else, and boasted musical and visual resources far beyond other European theaters. All the great 19th century opera composers, including Verdi and Wagner, sought commissions from the Paris Opera.

On today’s date in 1823, a 33-year old German composer living in Venice appealed to one of the Paris Opera’s stars, the French bass Nicolas Levasseur, for help in securing just such a commission. “I assure you it would be a much greater honor for me to write for the French opera than for all the Italian theaters put together,” this composer wrote. “Where else but in Paris can one find the immense resources that French opera offers the composer who longs to write truly dramatic music?”

The flattery, honest or feigned, must have worked. The German composer, Jakob Meyerbeer by name, got his toe in the door, and in 1831 his opera “Robert the Devil” debuted in Paris to great acclaim. And Meyerbeer didn’t forget M. Levasseur’s help: in “Robert the Devil” he thanked the singer with a tailor-made lead role for the bass voice.

Music Played in Today's Program

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) Robert le Diable excerpt Samuel Ramey, bass; Munich Radio Orchestra; Jacques Delacôte, cond. EMI Classics 49582

Additional Information

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