Opera Scotland

Star of the North L' étoile du nord; The Star of the North

Music

Giacomo Meyerbeer (born Vogelsdorf, nr Berlin, 5 September 1791; died Paris, 2 May 1864)

Text

Eugène Scribe (1791-1861).

Source

Ballet scenario La Cantinière by Scribe.

 

Premieres

First performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 16 February 1854.

First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 19 July 1855.

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 6 May 1889.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Meyerbeer’s real name was Jakob Liebmann Beer and, like Mendelssohn, he came from a wealthy German-Jewish background. He trained initially as a pianist while a child in Berlin. On the advice of Salieri he moved to Venice, where his operatic output developed in the style of Rossini. From 1817 to 1824 he produced six works with great success throughout Italy, culminating in Il crociato in Egitto. When that piece was mounted in Paris in 1826, Meyerbeer decided to stay. From now on his speed of output slowed, with several years between each work. Robert le Diable (1831) and Les Huguenots (1835) began a pattern of success which continued throughout his life. These were the classic French grand operas, in five acts with ballet, and generally on majestic historical subjects. L’ étoile du nord was an exception to this pattern, being on a smaller scale, with spoken dialogue and no ballet, and even with a happy ending. Meyerbeer's intention was to re-use music from Ein Feldlager in Schlesien, composed a decade earlier for Berlin, and Scribe's libretto was tailored accordingly. It maintained its popularity through the nineteenth century. The only modern revivals in the British Isles were at the Camden Festival in London by Opera Rara (1975), and then at Wexford in 1996 (when Catherine was sung by Elizabeth Futral, Gritzenko by Christopher Maltman and George by Juan Diego Flórez). A live recording of the latter staging was released on the Marco Polo label.

 

Main Characters

Catherine, a vivandière (soprano)

Peter the Great (bass)

Danilowitz, a pastry cook (tenor)

George, Catherine’s brother (tenor)

Prascovia (soprano)

Gritzenko, a corporal (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

On the Gulf of Finland, Peter the Great is disguised as a ship’s carpenter. He is attracted to a village girl, Catherine, whose brother George has been teaching him the flute. The locals distrust Peter and Danilowitz because they are Russian. Catherine has helped arrange for her brother to marry the innkeeper’s daughter Praskovia. When he is immediately conscripted into the army Catherine decides to take his place. At the army camp, Gritzenko, an illiterate corporal, asks Catherine to read a document he has been given. She realises that it reveals a plot against the Tsar. On guard duty later, she is upset by the drunken behaviour of the officers, including Peter, so when Gritzenko comes to relieve her she refuses, and Peter orders her to be shot. As she is led away by Gritzenko she gives him a note about the conspiracy to give to Peter and promptly escapes. The Tsar now reveals himself in person and prevents the revolt. Later on, at St Petersburg, Peter is now missing Catherine. Finnish emigrants arrive, including George and Prascovia. George is now mistaken for his sister and in danger of being shot. Catherine arrives, having been found wandering about insane. Her wits are only restored by the sound of two flutes playing a familiar melody. Peter now makes her his Tsarina.

The Cast

Catherine
 sister of George Skavronski
Danilowitz
 a pastry cook
Ekimona
 a vivandière
George Skavronski
 a teacher of music
Gritzenko
 a corporal of grenadiers
Ismailov
 a Cossack officer
Natalie
 a vivandière
Peter the Great
 Tsar of Russia
Prascovia
 niece of Reynold
Reynold
 a tavern-keeper
Tcheremelev
 a Russian general
Yermolov
 a Russian colonel

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