Opera Scotland

Louise

Music

Gustave Charpentier (born Dieuze, 25 June 1860; died Paris, 18 February 1956)

Text

The composer.

 

Premieres

First Performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 2 February 1900.

First Performance in UK: London (Covent Garden), 18 June 1909.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 11 November 1912.

 

Background

Gustave Charpentier had a promising career, earning a scholarship to the Paris Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome, studying with Massenet. He enjoyed one great success with a single opera that was quite realistic in its plotting, rather different from the romantic style popular in France. His career was unusual, in that he achieved a huge success early on, with Louise, but unlike most others in the same position, he almost seems to have given up composition. Certainly there is no sign of the kind of constant striving to repeat the success, as happened with Mascagni and Leoncavallo. 

The opera was quickly taken up around the world, and was widely performed in Britain, largely through the great enthusiasm of Sir Thomas Beecham. It made the career of the Aberdonian soprano Mary Garden, who took over the title role at the eighth Paris performance, making a great personal success of it. This led to her being cast by Debussy to create Mêlisande a few months later. She never sang either role in Britain.

Louise has very much lost popularity outside France, and has only had one British staging in recent years, when ENO mounted it for Valerie Masterson. Nevertheless, the opera remains in the public eye due to the justified popularity of the great soprano aria 'Depuis le jour'. While there are many tiny solo roles, the work is dominated by the two central characters, this being emphasised by the fact that we are not even given the names of her rather anonymous parents.

 

Main Characters

Louise, a dressmaker (soprano)

Her mother (mezzo-soprano)

Her father baritone)

Julien, a poet (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The action occurs in a Parisian setting exactly at the time of composition, 1900. Louise's attraction to Julien is in conflict with her genuine love for her parents, who are, in turn, devoted to her. She has been raised in a life of virtuous poverty, but devoted to hard work. Julien does eventually persuade her to run off and enjoy his bohemian lifestyle. This lasts until her father becomes ill, and her mother begs her to return home. After the father's recovery they try to keep her at home, but eventually there is an argument and she returns to the bright lights, leaving her embittered parents alone.

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