Opera Scotland

Prophète Le prophète. The Prophet

Music

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

Text

Eugène Scribe.

Source

Loosely based on the Anabaptist uprising in the Netherlands in 1532.

 

Premieres

First Performance: Paris (Opéra), 16 April 1849.

First performance in the UK: London (Covent Garden), 24 July 1849.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 4 February 1856.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Meyerbeer took his time with composition once he started producing grand operas for Paris, and thirteen years passed from the opening of Les Huguenots to the launch of its successor, largely because he spent much of the time running the opera house in Berlin. Le prophète also had a sixteenth century setting, complete with massed crowd scenes and a cataclysmic finale. While it was extremely successful initially, it has beem revived less often than the earlier work. In Britain, the pieces of music which have gained independent life are the Coronation March and the ballet sequence, representing a skating scene, chosen by Frederick Ashton for one of his early successes, Les patineurs. While the title role is a difficult one for a dramatic tenor, the most important part is generally seen as that of his mother, Fidès, a wonderful role for dramatic mezzo, created by Pauline Viardot-Garcia, the sister of Malibran. In recent years it has been suited to the particular talents of Marilyn Horne, for whom it was revived at the New York Met.

 

Main characters

Jean, an innkeeper - John of Leyden (tenor)

Fidès, his mother (mezzo-soprano)

Berthe, betrothed to Jean (soprano)

Comte d'Oberthal (bass)

Jonas, Mathisen and Zacharie, three anabaptists (tenor, bass, bass)

 

Plot Summary

Berthe and Fidès go to Dordrecht to ask Count Oberthal's approval of Berthe's marriage to Jean. However the Count takes a fancy to Berthe himself, and has her seized and taken in to his palace. A group of anabaptists now find it easy to stir the restless populace to revolt. The anabaptists, visiting Jean's inn, are struck by his resemblance to an illustration of King David in the nearby cathedral, and try to convince him to become their leader. or prophet. When Berthe rushes in, pursued by Oberthal, she is hidden until the Count threatens to execute Fidès. Jean gives Berthe up, but then joins the rebels. His mother is convinced that he is dead, murdered by the prophet, and unaware that this so-called prophet is in fact her son.

The anabaptist forces are preparing to attack Mûnster. Oberthal is brought in, having been captured, and learning that Berthe has again escaped, Jean decides that she will decide the Count's fate. The first attack, led by Mathisen, fails, but Jean himself leads a second, successful assault. Fidès, reduced to poverty, meets Berthe and tells her that Jean is dead. They swear vengeance. When Jean is about to be crowned in the cathedral Fidès recognises him and cries out. In order to preserve his identity as a prophet Jean has to deny that she is his mother.

Jean is still in control at Münster, but the three anabaptists have turned against him and plot to sell him to the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, who are approaching. When Fidès meets him she persuades him to return to his old life at Leyden in return for her forgiving him for denying her earlier. However Berthe now enters, determined to blow up the building to kill the prophet and his followers. It is discovered that the Emperor and his troops are at the gates, and Berthe now recognises that Jean and the Prophet are one and the same. She curses him before committing suicide. Jean is now determined to gain his revenge on the anabaptists who are inside, celebrating with the count, so he arranges for an explosion to take place in the powder magazine down in the cellars. He and Fidès enter the hall just before this explosion takes place, in which they, the Count, the anabaptists and most of the people are killed.

The Cast

Berthe
 Jean's betrothed
Count Oberthal
 
Fidès
 Jean's mother
Jean
 an innkeeper, later John of Leyden
Jonas
 an Anabaptist
Matthisen
 an Anabaptist
Zacharias
 an Anabaptist

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