Opera Scotland

Huguenots Les Huguenots; The Huguenots

Music

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

Text

Eugène Scribe and Emile Deschamps; amended by Gaetano Rossi.

Source

Loosely based on the St Bartholomew’s Eve massacre of 1572.

 

Premières

First performance: Paris (Opéra), 29 February 1836.

First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 20 June 1842.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 13 January 1854.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background 

Les Huguenots was Meyerbeer’s second great success in Paris, and remained his most popular work, performed regularly in the world’s major opera houses for nearly a century. The difficulty of casting the work tended to bring about expressions such as “the Night of the Seven Stars” which no doubt worked well at the box office. However there developed a tendency to cut the piece heavily. Indeed, a common practice, used by the touring companies in Britain, was to end the performance with Act 4, and the exciting duet for Valentine and Raoul before they rush out to the street. The omitted fifth act is not long, but contains a significant quantity of choral music, and the wholesale slaughter of most of the characters, so its omission is understandable, if regrettable. Probably better to cut a whole act that to snip away at the internal structure of the surviving parts.

 

Main Characters

Marguerite de Valois, sister of the King (soprano)

Comte de St Bris, a leading Catholic (bass)

Valentine, his daughter (soprano)

Raoul de Nangis, a young Huguenot (tenor)

Marcel, Raoul’s servant (bass)

Urbain, page to Marguerite (mezzo-soprano)

Comte de Nevers, a Catholic (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The opera opens in the Touraine region of France. At a banquet hosted by Nevers, as the guests in turn sing in praise of women, Raoul sings of his love for an unknown girl he had rescued from a bunch of drunken students. Nevers is called out to a meeting, observed by the others, which is with his fiancée Valentine. Raoul recognises her as his mystery woman. He is himself summoned to a secret rendezvous. Marguerite has planned a marriage between Raoul and Valentine as part of her scheme to end the religious faction fighting. She gets Raoul’s agreement to the scheme before putting it to a joint meeting of Catholics and Huguenots. But when Valentine now enters and is introduced to him, Raoul rejects her, believing her to be the mistress of Nevers, The peace mission collapses. The action switches to Paris, where Nevers is about to marry Valentine amid an atmosphere of rising discord between the factions. Valentine overhears a plot by her father, fiancé and others to ambush Raoul. She still loves him, and warns Marcel, who has come to arrange a duel between Raoul and St Bris. As the duel and a more general fight are both getting under way, peace is only restored by the arrival of Marguerite, who also tells Raoul of the true relations between Valentine and Nevers. St Bris is shocked to discover that his daughter had warned Marcel of his scheme. After the marriage of Nevers and Valentine has taken place, Raoul visits her, to say farewell before he leaves, determined on death. When the Catholic conspirators, including her husband and father, arrive, Valentine hides Raoul, and he overhears the plans for the massacre of Huguenots arranged for that night. After an extended duet with Valentine, Raoul rushes off to warn his friends (at which point many performances used to end). He joins them as they celebrate the marriage of Marguerite to Henry of Navarre. Fighting breaks out, and in the street Valentine meets Raoul and Marcel. Her husband has been killed and she now wishes to join Raoul. When St Bris arrives with his troops he orders them to fire on and kill the group of Huguenots. He discovers, too late, that he has killed his own daughter.  

The Cast

Archer
 
Bois-Rosé
 a Huguenot soldier
Comte de Nevers
 a Catholic nobleman
Comte de Saint Bris
 a Catholic nobleman
Cossé
 a Catholic gentleman
de Retz
 a Catholic gentleman
First Maid of Honour
 
Marcel
 Raoul's servant
Marguerite de Valois
 sister of the King of France
Maurevert
 a Catholic nobleman
Méru
 a Catholic gentleman
Raoul de Nangis
 a Huguenot nobleman
Second Maid of Honour
 
Servant
 of Comte de Nevers
Tavannes
 a Catholic gentleman
Thoré
 a Catholic gentleman
Urbain
 page to Marguerite
Valentine
 daughter of Saint-Bris
Watchman
 

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