Luigi Cherubini (born Florence, 14 September 1760; died Paris, 15 March 1842)
Jean Nicolas Bouilly.
First performance: Paris (Théâtre Feydeau), 16 January 1800.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 14 October 1801 (version by Attwood).
First performance in Scotland: to be confirmed.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.
Cherubini was one of a long list of Italians who were attracted to the prestige and wealth of a successful career in Paris, however his first job abroad, in 1784, was in London. His operas were not successful there, and he moved to Paris in 1787. Again, success did not come immediately, but after the Revolution he began a successful period composing for the newly built Théâtre Feydeau. The first of these was an escape opera Lodoïska (1791), which has been revived occasionally. The third of these works, Médée, of 1797, contains some hair-raisingly dramatic music and situations, reflecting the violence of recent Parisian life. Les deux journées followed in 1800 and was in most respects a reaction against that, with an altogether calmer effect. His later operas were far less successful, and he went on to concentrate on the composition of church music. In addition to his success as a composer in his adopted home, he also had a great reputation as a teacher. For the last twenty years of his life he was director of the Paris Conservatoire, and his operas were seen as hopelessly old-fashioned. His greatest influence was on Beethoven, and thereby on later followers such as Schumann and Wagner. Médée had a great success later in the nineteenth century, in a version in which it was performed in Italian with recitatives by Lachner. Les deux journées has generally been known in Britain by its alternative title Le porteur d’eau (The Water Carrier), and was a popular success when revived by Carl Rosa.
Count Armand (tenor)
Constance, his wife (soprano)
Mikeli, a water-carrier (baritone)
Antonio, Mikeli’s son (tenor)
The plot is set in 1647, when Paris is ruled by Cardinal Mazarin. Opposition to his government has been ruthlessly stamped out, and anyone known to have been an opponent is in danger. Armand and his wife are attempting to escape from Paris, and are offered shelter by Mikeli. Antonio was, some years earlier, rescued by Armand, and Mikeli now feels he has the opportunity to reciprocate. He smuggles Armand out of the city in his water cart, while Constance, disguised as Antonio’s sister, is also led to safety. On the second day, at a village outside Paris, wedding celebrations are under way for Antonio and his new bride. But Constance is discovered and arrested by soldiers. Armand immediately gives himself up and is arrested. At this point, Mikeli arrives with his cart once more, this time with news of a general pardon issued by the Queen.
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