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Thread: Cherubini Operas

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    Senior Member Dustin's Avatar
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    Default Cherubini Operas

    Any comments or opinions on your experiences with Cherubini's operas? Medea is the popular one but I was shocked with how many others there are. I'm listening to Les Abencerages right now and enjoying it quite a bit.

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    I do have a Sony recording of Lodoïska and it's boring, even Riccardo Muti ( conducting) with his special style for opera can't change that.

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    Senior Member Couac Addict's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pugg View Post
    I do have a Sony recording of Lodoïska and it's boring, even Riccardo Muti ( conducting) with his special style for opera can't change that.
    I'm not a big fan either but I'm not sure how well Lodoïska translates on record anyway - Muti, or otherwise. It probably needs to be seen live. Most people are intrigued by it only because it influenced Beethoven's Fidelio.
    This space for rent.

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    Senior Member Dustin's Avatar
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    So do either of ya'll like Medea or are you just not much on listening to Cherubini at all? I've yet to hear a big chunk of his music but his quartets are really thrilling to me and Medea and the Requiem's stock are both rising fast.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dustin View Post
    So do either of ya'll like Medea or are you just not much on listening to Cherubini at all? I've yet to hear a big chunk of his music but his quartets are really thrilling to me and Medea and the Requiem's stock are both rising fast.
    To be honest I do like the last act the most.
    I have a L.P of Medea with Eileen Farrel and that is breath taking.

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    Senior Member Couac Addict's Avatar
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    Médée is probably the best starting point for a Cherubini opera. Although, I'd think twice about hiring her as a baby-sitter.
    This space for rent.

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    Beethoven liked Cherubini a lot.

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    Senior Member Meyerbeer Smith's Avatar
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    Ask me again in a couple of months!

    He's a composer I want to investigate, but haven't yet.

    Piotr Kaminski (Mille et un opéras, 2003) considers him an important forgotten musical link; an original artist connecting the heritage of Classicism to the élan of Romantism.

    The significant works seem to be:
    Démophoon (1788), his first French opera, coldly received.


    Lodoiska (1791) - Clément and Fétis thought that with it, he founded the French school. Clément: "Dramatic music in France entered a new path. The effects of harmony and orchestration strengthened those of lyrical diction and melody. What Gluck had imagined for passionate expression, what Mozart had constantly practised in his German or Italian operas, Cherubini made a principle, and, by the constancy and perfection of his fine works founded a school knowledgeable, conscientious, distinguished, and favourable to the development and imagination of musicians. It is obvious that in writing Démophoon and Lodoïska, Cherubini opened the way to Méhul, Lesueur, and Spontini." (Modern readers might add Rossini's French operas, Halévy and Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Wagner.)
    David LeMarrec (Carnets sur sol) says the music - sinewy and condensed - anticipates Beethoven, including the martial interlude that far surpasses all the battles and storms of the repertoire until Wagner's Flying Dutchman. "A dizzying qualitative leap towards something modern and already Romantic. Tragédie lyrique is dead, and a freer and more mixed aesthetic is born."

    Médée (1797) - his best-known today

    L'Hôtellerie portugaise (1798)

    La Punition (1799)

    Les Deux journées (1800) - his greatest triumph

    Faniska (1806) - performed in Vienna, admired by Haydn and Beethoven, who called Cherubini the foremost dramatic composer of our time. (French composers - including Méhul himself - agreed.)

    He also wrote a superb Requiem (which I have heard!).

    Otherwise, Halévy's mentor and artistic father-figure; Berlioz's enemy. (Berlioz interrupted the performance of Cherubini's last opera Ali Baba (1833) by leaping to his feet and offering money for an idea, raising the sum each time; in the end: "I give up; I can't afford it!" Berlioz aside, the work was considered cold.)
    Last edited by Meyerbeer Smith; Oct-13-2019 at 10:35.

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    And he admired Medea, or more properly, Medée enormously.

    Of course the opera Callas made famous is a hybrid, an Italian translation of a German version with recitatives written by Franz Lachner. The original work was an opéra-comique to a French libretto with spoken dialogue.

    That said, it really needs a Callas to bring it alive and as yet there is no good recording of the original version.

    Callas's studio recording under Serafin is not unfortunately her best (though it's still streets ahead of other studio recordings), but there are three superb live performances in variable sound.

    Florence 1953 under Vittorio Gui
    La Scala 1953 under Leonard Bernstein
    Dallas 1958 under Nicola Rescigno

    Any of these will give you a sense of the dramatic power this opera can have.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Senior Member Meyerbeer Smith's Avatar
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    Démophoon

    Cherubini's first French work. The story is almost tragédie lyrique by numbers: Classical setting (Thrace), human sacrifice, tyrannical kings, heavy fathers, and crossed lovers. Démophoon is king of Thrace; his son Osmide is secretly married to Dircé, daughter of the warrior Astor, but Démophoon wants Osmide to wed Ircile, princess of Phrygia - but she'd rather have Démophoon's other son Néade. (Got that?) Thrace has a nasty custom: every year, a maiden must be sacrificed to Apollo; Démophoon selects Dircé. It takes two whole acts to get to that point. Démophoon relents in the last act, the oracle ends the sacrifices, and the young lovers can marry the partners of their choice. (Metastasio's libretto, on which Marmontel's is based, adds another twist: Dircé is Démophoon's daughter, and Osmide is Astor's son. Don't ask.)

    The opera only lasted eight performances in 1785; critics blamed the ponderous, undramatic libretto ('If words make an opera, then Démophoon's an opera,' one wag said), but even Cherubini's 19th century admirers like Fétis found his score dry and uninspired. Others, like Halévy and Pougin, thought it a transitional work: Cherubini was trying to establish a new style, and hadn't quite got there yet.

    There is only one recording: Rome, 1985, conducted by Gelmetti. I can't recommend it. The cast (which includes Montserrat Caballé and Giuseppe Taddei) can't pronounce French, and can't act either - both vital for tragédie lyrique; and the sound quality is poor. I listened to an audio recording (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrU1iK3cd1g&t=618s) and watched a bootleg nth-generation video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jv5GwJn7RY&t=3666s). Much of the instrumental detail is lost; choruses are blurred; and the orchestra often overshadows the voices. There's also often a buzz or a hum, the track will skip and wobble, and occasional high-pitched bleeping. I had to follow along on a vocal score to get some sense of the musical line.

    For that reason, I can't comment on the opera's musical quality; most of it seems dull, but a better recording might reveal surprising beauties. (MM. Rousset and Niquet...?) The overture is terrific; otherwise the major pieces seem to be a duet in Act II and Dircé's aria in Act III. Osmide's aria at the end of Act II and the chorus in Act III's temple scene might also be effective.
    Last edited by Meyerbeer Smith; Dec-01-2019 at 11:45.

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    I really like Cherubini, or at least the music I know by him. As someone has pointed out above, Beethoven admired his works and Medea is the type of opera Beethoven might have composed had he been of a theatrical bent.

    I must get off to You Tube and listen to more.

    N.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    I really like Cherubini, or at least the music I know by him. As someone has pointed out above, Beethoven admired his works and Medea is the type of opera Beethoven might have composed had he been of a theatrical bent.

    I must get off to You Tube and listen to more.

    N.
    Yes, it would be great to hear Cherubini in a clear recording! The overtures and instrumental pieces are excellent - and rather Beethovenish in their intensity and complexity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    And he admired Medea, or more properly, Medée enormously.

    Of course the opera Callas made famous is a hybrid, an Italian translation of a German version with recitatives written by Franz Lachner. The original work was an opéra-comique to a French libretto with spoken dialogue.

    That said, it really needs a Callas to bring it alive and as yet there is no good recording of the original version.

    Callas's studio recording under Serafin is not unfortunately her best (though it's still streets ahead of other studio recordings), but there are three superb live performances in variable sound.

    Florence 1953 under Vittorio Gui
    La Scala 1953 under Leonard Bernstein
    Dallas 1958 under Nicola Rescigno

    Any of these will give you a sense of the dramatic power this opera can have.
    These versions were also my introduction to Medea - Callas was incredible in the part.

    I'm also partial to the 1961 version which is why I've been working on it. The issue there was the tapes running over a semitone slow which can now be fixed. It definitely has its moments plus I enjoyed Vickers, Simionato and Ghiaurov.


    (Nemici senza cor with Callas and Vickers)
    Last edited by Revitalized Classics; Dec-01-2019 at 13:14.

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    Senior Member Meyerbeer Smith's Avatar
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    LODOISKA
    Comédie héroïque in 2 acts
    First performed: Théâtre Feydeau, Paris, 18 July 1791, conducted by La Houssaye

    Lodoïska is one of the most important works in the history of French opera. Vincent Giroud calls it the first Romantic opera, combining a dramatic plot and a musical language that drew both from the Italian tradition at its most melodic and Gluck’s innovations, albeit within a richer symphonic texture. Clément and Fétis thought that with it the Italian founded the ‘modern’ (i.e. 19th century) French school.

    Loreaux's libretto is based on an anecdote in a popular novel of the day, Couvray’s Vie et amours du chevalier de Faublas. One of the first ‘rescue operas’, the story is pure melodrama: the hero and his cleverer servant rescue a maiden in peril from the clutches of a black-hearted, black-hatted aristocrat. Even critics of the time thought the libretto weak, but there was plenty to interest a Revolutionary audience: speeches about liberty, justice, and humanity; beautiful stage sets; a spectacular conflagration (just like the Bastille); and revolutionary-minded Tartars.

    The story may resemble an early Hollywood swashbuckler, but it’s faster-paced, more action-driven, and more exciting than almost anything in opera hitherto. The score completely abandons the decorum of the Baroque and Classical periods; for the late 18th century audience, the opera must have seemed an onslaught on the senses.

    Lodoïska fell like a thunderbolt, Crowest wrote. The “advanced harmonic combinations, brilliant, nay, even startling and realistic orchestral effects and tone colourings … mark a great artistic advance – a stride so vast that it is scarcely surprising that it caused alarm among the composers of the day.”

    There is more power, more volume, more complexity, more energy, simply MORE of everything. Cherubini whips the orchestra into a frenzy, builds up crescendo upon crescendo, and unleashes choruses and ensembles – but always with an intricacy of harmonic and orchestral detail that looks forward to Meyerbeer. The opéra comique of the 1790s is, in fact, the ancestor of the grand opéra of the 1830s.

    Synopsis


    CHARACTERS: LODOÏSKA(soprano); LYSINKA (soprano), her nurse; FLORESKI (tenor); TITZIKAN (tenor), Tatar leader; VARBEL (baritone), Floreski’s servant; DOURLINSKI (baritone), castellan of Poland; ALTAMORAS (bass), Dourlnski’s confidant

    The story takes place in early 17th century Poland, on the borders of Russia, in and around the castle of the wicked Baron Dourliski. He is an utter rotter: ‘un scélérat, l’horreur de cette contrée, l’oppresseur de tous ceux qui l’environnent, et qui gémissent sous le poids de sa tyrannie…’ The prince Altanno, for some reason, thought Dourlinski a suitable person to entrust his daughter Lodoïska to. The girl was engaged to Count Floreski, an aristocrat but a liberal; when Floreski voted in the Diet for the people’s rights against Altanno, the enraged nobleman broke off the engagement (hiss! boo!), and hid his daughter away. Now Floreski and his servant Varbel are searching the country for Lodoïska.

    Act I takes place in the forest of Ostropol, outside the castle; it is night. When the curtain rises, the Tartar band steal towards the castle; their leader Titzikan has vowed to capture the Baron. They are true Revolutionaries, these tribesmen. All Dourlinski’s vassals secretly long for vengeance, and only await an intrepid leader to shake off their yoke; Titzikan wants to be the happy mortal who will restore liberty to men whose virtue is only sleeping. ‘Ils combattront pour eux, pour leurs droits, pour la liberté enfin ! … et le tyran disparoitra du monde, en acquittant, par son trépas, les crimes dont il aura souillé son odieuse vie.’

    Floreski and his servant Varbel enter, searching for Lodoïska. The Tartars challenge the travelers to combat; Floreski defeats the chieftain and spares his life, whereupon the two combatants become firm friends. Lodoïska hears her lover’s voice, and urges him to escape; he resolves to rescue her. Disguised as emissaries from her father, master and servant enter the castle.

    The picturesque chorus of bandits (No. 1: ‘Approchez sans défiance’) looks forward to Auber. Titzikan reveals his plan in a rousing aria (No. 2: ‘Triomphons avec noblesse!’), with an optional high C. Varbel’s aria (No. 3: ‘Voyez la belle beosgne’) is pure Italianate buffo. The most effective number in the act is the brisk quartet (No. 4: ‘Étrangers, n’ayez point d’alarmes’), which leads to the combat. The following trio and chorus (No. 5: ‘Jurons, quoiqu’il faille entreprendre’) is a model for the oath-swearing ensembles of grand opera, like the Rütli scene in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. No. 6 is marked ‘Polonaise’; it begins as one: Varbel’s charming ‘Souvent près d’une belle’; Floreski replies with a less interesting largo (‘Perdre ma belle? plutôt le jour’); Cherubini skillfully combines the two in a duet. Lodoïska is heard for the first time in the finale (No. 7: ‘Floreski! Floreski!’); the syllabic and strongly rhythmic ensemble that closes the act is almost Meyerbeerian. Castil-Blaze (Revue de Paris, 1833) considered this finale a masterpiece of stagecraft. “The combination of drama and music has produced nothing more perfect.”

    Acts II and III take place in an antique gallery inside the castle; the centre of the stage is dominated by an equestrian statue showing the tyranny of the master. He does his best to live up to the statue: when Lodoïska rejects his offer of marriage, he orders her to be locked away in the most secret part of the tower, without even her nurse to accompany her. Floreski and Varbel penerate the castle in their disguise, but the baron is suspicious, and orders his henchmen to serve them poisoned wine. The quick-thinking servant foxes them, swapping the flasks with a sleeping draught, so the henchmen fall unconscious. The travelers recover their weapons and try to escape, but are seized and disarmed by the guards.

    The first three numbers are outbursts of anguish and anger: Lodoïska’s grand aria (No. 8), a rather dull larghetto (‘Que dis-je, ô ciel! si, contre mon attente’) and a wild allegro (‘Hélas, dans ce cruel asile’); Lodoïska and Dourlinski’s duo (No. 9: ‘À ces traits je connais ta rage’); and an explosive quartet (No. 10: ‘Non, non, perdez cette espérance’). The canonic trio (No. 11: ‘Ciel, ce que je lui propose’) is a moment of musical repose. Floreski’s allegro aria (No. 12: ‘Rien n’égale sa barbarie’) makes little impression.

    The 16-minute Act II finale (No. 13: ‘Hélas qu’allons nous entreprendre’) is considered one of the musical and dramatic highlights of the work. The Journal des théâtres et des fêtes nationales (1794) called it a masterpiece of wit, grace, finesse, and harmonic effects; “this piece alone proves Cherubini one of the masters of the art”, while Carlez (1866) thought no finale so developed or skillful had appeared in French opera before. It contains a drinking quartet (No. 14: ‘Amis que ce divin breuvage’) and an intoxication scène (‘Bon! bon! les voila qu’ils y viennent’) which Castil-Blaze thought above all praise. The act ends in an exciting stretta.

    Act III takes place in the same gallery later that evening. Now Dourlinski has Floreski in his power, he will order Lodoïska to marry him to save her lover’s life. His allegro aria (No. 14: ‘Oui, par mon heureuse addresse’) is one of the more conventional numbers in the score. The wild leaps in Lodoïska’s aria (No. 15: ‘Tournez sur moi votre colère’), another allegro piece, show her desperation. The Baron’s accomplice Altamoras brings on Floreski; in a fine quartet (No. 16: ‘Quoi! t’unir à ce barbare?’), the two lovers resolve to die together rather than yield. The Baron orders the pair taken away to prison – but the Tartars burst in, and Titzikan frees Floreski. A symphonie guerrière depicts the fracas. The whole castle – fortifications, towers, ramparts – is on fire; the theatre is filled with Tartars fighting against Poles. Lodoïska is locked up in a tower; the fire spreads to her tower; she is about to die when Floreski, at the top of the fortress, crosses a bridge to rescue her. They return to the bridge, but it collapses under them; the two lovers fall into the arms of the Tartars. Dourlinski tries to stab Floreski, but Titzikan seizes the dagger. The finale (No. 17: ‘Tyran, au nombre de tes crimes’) follows at once: the Tartars chain up the baron and Altamoras, who will be sent to prison. The Tartars blow up the fortress with a mine; the Poles kneel, and the Tartars brandish their weapons as a sign of victory.

    Reception & recordings

    The work was a smash hit: performed 200 times in its first year, and 200 more times in the Revolutionary period.

    “M. Cherubini’s score is comparable only to the most sublime achievements of the greatest masters,” the Almanach général de tous les spectacles (1792) proclaimed. “Never before have French ears heard more expressive and more characteristic music.” The public, Babault (Annales dramatiques) noted, rose after each piece to applaud their immortal author. “The music is ravishing, sublime; admirable ensembles, profound orchestration, astonishing verve, and extraordinary originality … all justify the popular enthusiasm.” The Journal de Paris (20 July 1791) praised the composer as a great master; Cherubini was a composer of infinite promise, but the critic was nonetheless amazed at the brilliant effects he gathered in profusion. “There are hardly any examples of a more vigorous or more fruitful talent.”

    Cherubini’s fame spread to Germany, where 15 years later Haydn and Beethoven would hail him as the greatest dramatic composer of the age with Faniska. Weber praised Lodoïska and conducted it in 1817 and 1818. At the end of the century, Crowest ranked it with Don Giovanni (!) as a work of “great life-giving properties – the deep grounded musical purpose and intent, the profound learning, combined with harmonic and melodic resource, the richness of fancy and idea, the command of vocal and instrumental forms, the grasp of happy periods and great dramatic situations – all this, and more.”

    There are only two recordings; both are enjoyable, neither is perfect. Riccardo Muti’s 1991 Sony recording is exciting, has more first-class singers – including Mariella Devia in the title role, and Alsesandro Corbelli as Varbel – and records all the dialogue. But none of the cast are Francophones, and some speak it with an Italian accent. Jérémie Rhôrer’s 2013 Ambroisie / naïve recording has a cast of native speakers, but the Floreski is strained, and the dialogue heavily cut.


    Works consulted
    Anon., [Untitled review of Lodoïska], Journal des théâtres et des fêtes nationales, 1794.
    Jules Carlez, “Les opéras qu’on ne joue plus: Lodoïska, de Cherubini”, La Semaine musicale, 4 January 1866
    Castil-Blaze, “Cherubini”, Revue de Paris, 1833.
    Félix Clément, Les musiciens célèbres depuis le 16ème siècle jusqu’à nos jours, Paris : Librairie Hachette & Cie, 1878.
    Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869.
    Frederick J. Crowest, The Great Musicians: Cherubini, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1890.
    F.-J. Fétis, Biographie universelle des musiciens (2ème édition), Paris : Librairie de Firmin Didot Frères, Fils et Cie., 1869.
    Vincent Giroud, French Opera: A Short History, Yale University Press, 2010.
    William Pencak, “Cherubini Stages a Revolution”, The Opera Quarterly, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 1 March 1991.
    Arthur Pougin, “Cherubini : Sa vie, ses œuvres, son rôle artistique : VI”, Le Ménestrel, 6 November 1881.

    Thoughts on Médée to follow.
    Last edited by Meyerbeer Smith; Feb-28-2020 at 02:00.

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