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Le prophète (The Prophet) is an opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French-language libretto was by Eugène Scribe.


Performance history

The opera was first performed at the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique, Parismarker on 16 April 1849. The creators of the three main roles were Anaïs Castellan as Berthe, Pauline Viardot as Fidés, and Gustave Roger as Jean. The second city to hear it was Londonmarker, on 24 July of the same year. It was given all over Germany in 1850, as well as in Viennamarker, Lisbonmarker, Antwerpmarker, New Orleansmarker, Budapestmarker, Brusselsmarker, Praguemarker and Baselmarker. Its tremendous success continued throughout the 19th century.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, April 16, 1849
(Conductor: Narcisse Girard)
Jean de Leyde tenor Gustave-Hippolyte Roger
Fidès, Jean's mother mezzo-soprano Pauline García-Viardot
Berthe, Jean's lover soprano Jeanne-Anaïs Castellan
Jonas, an Anabaptist tenor Louis Guéymard
Mathisen, an Anabaptist bass or baritone Euzet
Zacharie, an Anabaptist bass Nicolas-Prosper Levasseur
Oberthal, a feudal count bass Hippolyte Brémond


Synopsis

Summary

The opera is set in the religious wars of 16th century Germanymarker. Jean de Leyde (based on the historical John of Leyden), whose beloved, Berthe, is coveted by Count Oberthal, ruler of Dordrechtmarker, is persuaded by a trio of sinister Anabaptists to proclaim himself king in Münstermarker. He dies, accompanied by his faithful mother Fides, when the Anabaptists desert him and his palace is blown up.

Prologue

Meyerbeer originally wrote a long overture for the opera but this was cut, with various other sections of the work, during rehearsals due to the excessive length of the opera itself. The overture now survives only in the arrangement made for piano solo or duet made at Meyerbeer's request by Charles-Valentin Alkan.

Act 1

Before Oberthal's castle, Berthe explains to Fidès that she needs the Count's permission to marry Jean. The Anabaptists enter singing their mysterious chorale, Ad nos ad salutarem, (to a tune created by Meyerbeer) and arouse the interest of local peasants in their revolutionary ideas. Oberthal refuses Berthe's request (presumably with droit du seigneur in mind) and arrests Fidès and Berthe.

Act 2

Jean's inn at Leyden. The Anabaptists enter and try to persuade Jean that he is their destined leader. Berthe enters, fleeing Oberthal; the Count arrives and threatens to execute Jean's mother Fidès unless Berthe is returned to him. In despair, Jean hands over Berthe and succumbs to the lures of the Anabaptists.

Act 3

The camp of the Anabaptists. The first scene includes a 'skating' interlude set on the ice of a lake, which became a favourite part of the opera. (Apparently Meyerbeer was persuaded to include this at a late stage when roller-skating became a craze in Paris). The Anabaptists determine to seize Münster; their decision is overheard by Oberthal who has entered the camp in disguise. On his detection he is arrested; but when he informs Jean that he has seen Berthe alive in Münster, Jean cancels the order for his execution. Jean, in his role as Prophet and Leader, inspires the Anabaptist troops with a celestial vision of their impending success.

Act 4

Münster. Jean has taken the city, whose citizens are in despair at his rule. Berthe recognises Fidès, who has been told that Jean is dead, begging in the streets. Berthe determines to kill the wicked Prophet. Jean's coronation is preceded by a splendid March. Fidès is determined to carry out Berthe's plan for revenge but at the last moment recognises her son. Jean denies her and forces her to retract her recognition.

Act 5

John's palace in Münster. The Anabaptist trio resolve to hand over Jean to the Imperial armies to buy their own protection. Fidès encourages Jean to acknowledge her and his sins, and repent. Berthe enters intending to set fire to the palace. When she realises that Jean is the Prophet she has come to destroy, she commits suicide. Jean and Fidès determine to end the revolt; during the celebrations of his coronation, Jean sets off an explosion which brings the palace down on all who remain of the principal characters.

Influence

The musical and theatrical influences of the opera can be felt in, amongst others, Liszt's monumental Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam for organ is based on Anabaptists' chorale, the duet between mother and lost child in Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore, and the catastrophic finale of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung. The tremendous success of Le prophète at its Paris première also provoked Wagner's anti-Jewish attack on Meyerbeer, Das Judenthum in der Musik.

Selected recordings



Scores

Sources




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