Month: October 2013

Newly Digitized: Spontini’s Fernand Cortez, in 2 versions

Nearly two years ago, I shared a vocal score of Gaspare Spontini’s propagandistic Napoleonic-era opera Fernand Cortez (1809), a precursor of Auber’s La muette de Portici (1828) and the heights of 19th century grand opera. Joining it now are two other editions of the opera. The first is a full score of the original 1809 version, to a libretto by Joseph-Alphonse d’Esmenard and Etienne de Jouy. Premiered at the height of the Peninsular War, the opera portrays Cortez (or Napoleon) as enlightened hero, versus the savage Aztec (or Spanish) priests. The production was not an unqualified success, and despite its grand spectacle – in addition to dramatic, militaristic choruses and elaborate ballet sequences, a fully-staged production requires a number of live horses and includes a scene in which Cortez burns his own fleet – it was withdrawn after only a handful of performances.

[Fernand Cortez ou la conquête du Mexique : sept pl. de costumes / par François-Guillaume Ménageot]
Costume designs by François-Guillaume Ménageot (1809): Montesuma, Telasco, Amazily, Pontife mexicain. [Fernand Cortez ou la conquête du Mexique : sept pl. de costumes / par François-Guillaume Ménageot]. 1809
Source: gallica.bnf.fr (click for higher resolution image)

Even in 1809, as Napoleon’s Spanish campaign dragged on, Fernand Cortez was uncomfortably behind the political times; by 1816, a work celebrating a Napoleon-esque conqueror’s achievements was obviously out of style.1 In response, Spontini and Jouy made heavy revisions for the second version, changing the plot, characters, music, and dramatic structure of the opera. As Philipp Spitta’s lengthy article in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes, in the revival of May, 1817, “the 3rd act now became the 1st, the 1st act the 2nd, and a part of the 2nd the 3rd.”2 If anything, this simplifies the structural changes; Théodore de Lajarte provides a more detailed enumeration in Curiosités de l’Opéra (1883).3 Among numerous other revisions, the role of Montezuma is entirely new to the second version, and Spontini rewrote Cortez’s part (originally for haute-contre) for tenor or bari-tenor.

While the second version of Fernand Cortez enjoyed greater success, remaining a fixture of the repertoire through the early 1830s, Spontini made still more changes to the third act for Berlin productions in 1824 and 1832, this time with the assistance of the poet M. Théaulon (Marie-Emmanuel-Guillaume-Marguerite Théaulon de Lambert). The vocal score here, most likely published ca. 1830, probably reflects one of these later versions; although I haven’t yet compared the editions measure-to-measure, most notably it does not include the lengthy 3rd act ballet published in Erard’s 1817 full score (HOLLIS record).

  • Fernand Cortez
    Fernand Cortez; ou, La conquête du Mexique, tragédie lyrique en 3 actes, de De Jouy et Esmenard. Mise en musique par Gasparo Spontini. Représentée pour le première fois, sur le théâtre de l’Académie royale de musique, le 15, 28 novembre 1809. Paris : Imbault [1809?]. Mus 813.2.622
  • Fernand Cortez. Vocal score
    Fernand Cortez, ou, La conquête du Mexique : tragédie lyrique en 3 actes / de De Jouy et Esmènard ; mise en musique par G. Spontini. Nouv. éd. Paris : Melles. Erard, [1830?]. Mus 813.2.622.5

-Kerry Masteller


1. Note that while the opera had been commissioned by Napoleon and the 1809 edition is dedicated to his sister, Caroline Bonaparte, the later edition is prudently dedicated to the Comte de Pradel, who, as ministre de la Maison du Roi, had jurisdiction over the Opéra.

2. Phillipp Spitta, “Spontini, Gasparo Luigi Pacifico,” A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (A.D. 1450-1889), comp. George Grove (London: Macmillan, 1883), 3:669. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006210888

3. Théodore de Lajarte, Curiosités de l’Opéra (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1883), 175-183. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001458669

Newly Digitized: Meyerbeer Scores

The Loeb Music Library recently digitized several scores by Giacomo Meyerbeer (Jacob Liebermann Meyer Beer, 1791-1864), a German-born musician who became one of the most successful stage composers of the 19th century. Nine complete operas are now available, several in multiple editions, which document Meyerbeer’s compositional development though a legendary partnership with French dramatist and librettist Eugène Scribe, culminating in iconic works which led to the establishment of French grand opera as a distinct genre.

Giacomo Meyerbeer, Title page, Robert le Diable. Mus 743.3.601.5

Giacomo Meyerbeer, Title page, Robert le Diable. Mus 743.3.601.5 (click to enlarge)

In his mature scores — Robert le Diable (1831), Les Huguenots (1836), Le Prophète (1849), L’étoile du Nord (1854), L’Africaine (1865, posth.), all to libretti by Scribe and first performed at the Paris Opéra, and Le Pardon de Ploërmel (Dinorah) (1859), first given at the Opéra comique (Salle Favart) to a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré (librettists also for Gounod’s Faust and Roméo et Juliette, Thomas’ Mignon and Hamlet, and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann) — the composer established a highly popular genre in which musical numbers combined pomp, ritual, and highly inventive orchestration evoking local color, in works where large choruses and intimate arias and duets are interspersed with balletic divertissements within the context of a sweeping historical canvas.

  • [Robert le diable. Vocal score]
    Robert le Diable : opéra en 5 actes / paroles de MM. E. Scribe & G. Delavigne ; musique de Giacomo Meyerbeer ; partition de piano, arrangée par J.P. Pixis. [1st ed.]. Paris: M. Schlesinger, [1831]. Mus 743.3.601.5
  • [Huguenots. Vocal score]
    Les Huguenots : opéra en cinq actes / paroles de Scribe ; musique de G. Meyerbeer ; partition chant et piano. Ed. définitive et complète. Paris : Ph. Maquet, [1888?]. Mus 743.3.624
  • [Prophète. Vocal score]
    Le prophète : opéra en 5 actes / paroles de M.E. Scribe ; musique de G. Meyerbeer ; partition pour piano et chant ; arrangée par Garaudé. Paris : Brandus & Cie., [1849?]. Mus 743.3.661.1
  • [Étoile du Nord. Vocal score]
    L’étoile du nord : opéra comique en trois actes / paroles de Mr. E. Scribe ; musique de G. Meyerbeer ; partition piano et chant par A. de Garandé. Paris : Brandus, [1854?]. Mus 743.3.642
  • [Étoile du Nord. Vocal score. Italian]
    La stella del Nord : opera semiseria in tre atti / di Eugenio Scribe ; traduzione di E. Picchi ; musica di G. Meyerbeer ; riduzione con accompagnamento di pianoforte. Milano : F. Lucca, [1868?]. Mus 743.3.640.5
  • [Africaine. Vocal score. Selections]
    L’Africaine : deuxième partie de l’opéra en 5 actes / paroles de E. Scribe ; musique de G. Meyerbeer ; partition chant et piano [par E. Vauthrot] précédée d’une préface de J. Fétis et contenant 22 morceaux et fragments inédits … qui n’ont pas été exécutés à la représentation de l’Opéra à Paris. Paris : G. Brandus & S. Dufour, [1865?]. Mus 743.3.666
  • [Africaine. Vocal score]
    L’Africaine : opéra en cinq actes / paroles de E. Scribe ; musique de Giacomo Meyerbeer ; partition chant & piano arrangée par E. Vauthrot. Paris : G. Brandus & S. Dufour, [1865?]. Mus 743.3.666.3
  • [Africaine. Vocal score]
    L’Africaine : opéra en 5 actes / paroles de E. Scribe ; musique de G. Meyerbeer ; partition chant & piano arrangée par E. Vauthrot. Paris : G. Brandus & S. Dufour, [1865?] . Mus 743.3.666.5
  • [Le Pardon de Ploërmel (Dinorah)]
    Le pardon de Ploërmel : opéra comique en trois actes / paroles de J. Barbieret M. Carré ; musique de Giacomo Meyerbeer ; partition chant et piano. Paris : G. Brandus et S. Dufour, [1859?]. Mus 743.3.692.5

Also available are three early Italian works. Margarita d’Anjou premiered at La Scala in 1820, to a text by Felice Romani, librettist for many operas of Bellini (including La Sonnambula and Norma), Donizetti (L’elisir d’amore, Lucrezia Borgia, Anna Bolena), Rossini (Il Turco in Italia) and Verdi (Un giorno di regno).

Emma di Resburgo and Il Crociato in Egitto are both Venetian operas, the former first given at the Teatro San Benedetto in 1819, and Il Crociato in Egitto at Teatro La Fenice in 1824, to libretti by Gaetano Rossi, librettist of Rossini’s Tancredi and Semiramide, as well as to many operas by Johann Simon Mayr, Saverio Mercadante, and Donizetti (Linda di Chamounix, Maria Padilla). Il Crociato in Egitto was the first work to bring Meyerbeer recognition throughout Europe, and the last operatic work by a major composer to contain a major role for castrato (1824).

  • [Margarita d’Anjou. Vocal score]
    Margherita d’Anjou : opera semiseria in due atti / Composto e ridotto per il cembalo da G. Meyerbeer. Paris : M. Schlesinger, [1827?]. Mus 743.3.610 B
  • [Emma di Resburgo. Vocal score. German & Italian]
    Emma von Roxburgh : grosse Oper in zwei Aufzügen / componirt von J. Meyerbeer ; vollständiger Klavier-Auszug mit deutschem und italienischem text von J.P. Schmidt. Berlin : in der Schlesingerschen Buch- und Musikhandlung ; Schlesinger, [1820?]. Mus 743.3.676
  • [Crociato in Egitto. Vocal score]
    Il crociato in Egitto : opera seria. Ridotto con accompagniamento de pianoforte. Paris, Chez Pacini, [18–]. Mus 743.3.650

Find these scores in our collection of Digital Scores and Libretti, or browse the list in HOLLIS.

Finally, from library’s general collections is a digitized volume of arias with several selections from Meyerbeer’s works, published in 1909, testimony to his long-standing popularity. He was, after all, the operatic composer who filled the “gap” between the death of Mozart (1791) and the birth of Richard Strauss (1864)!

-Robert Dennis

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