Skip to comments.Protest Songs [review of "Les Huguenots", an opera about the St Bartholomew Massacre]
Posted on 07/01/2009 8:16:29 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
If youve been getting your kicks in three-minute doses on YouTube, you might want to take one evening this summer to dress up and unplug.
I think opera can be quite therapeutic for the ADD generation, says American designer-director Thaddeus Strassberger who will be directing Giacomo Meyerbeers Les Huguenots, one of the grandest of the grand French operas, for Bards SummerScape July 31 through August 7, a show that will give opera diehards as well as novices a chance to steep themselves in a particularly rare treat. Full of big emotions and clear drama, the producer promises it will be accessible, both literally (English subtitles will be continuously projected) and emotionally.
Back in the day, Les Huguenots, was the must-see of Paris. A tragic romance played out against the Roman Catholic persecution of French Calvinist Protestants in 16th-century Francethis was no Italianate romantic trifle, but a magisterial spectacle of socially redeeming entertainment, taking advantage of everything that Paris was offering in terms of production values, talent, energy, and bravura. Debuting in 1836, it was performed 1,000 times at the Paris Opera in the latter half of the 19th century.
And then it basically dropped deador at least so far off the radar that it hasnt been performed in New York since 1921. Its sort of like, the dinosaurs died out, and no one knows exactly why, says Strassberger. He considers the opera to be a true discovery, illuminating the missing link between Wagner and Verdi.
The pivotal piece of the opera is the St. Bartholomews Day Massacre of August 23, 1572, when a Roman Catholic mob murdered thousands of French Protestants during a three-day orgy of violence in Paris and later in provincial cities. The massacre marked the decisive end of Frances Third War of Religion, and the twilight of Huguenot influence in France. (A group of French Huguenots settled in New Paltz about 100 years later, establishing the first European settlement in the Hudson valley.) Its about societies that hate each other, and how those hatreds are quite impersonal, says Strassberger.
It would have been easy to contemporize Meyerbeers work into a modern political/religious struggle, but Strassberger was intent on preserving the original content, while clothing it in fresh garb, literallythe cast will be wearing designs inspired by leading French couturiers. The artistic team includes Spanish designer and filmmaker Eugenio Recuenco. Leon Botstein will conduct the American Symphony Orchestra.
Strassberger has worked with both of the romantic leads beforeand attributes both Alexandra DeShorties (Valentine) and Michael Spyers (Raoul) as having unclassifiable voices with fantastic range, possessing the necessary color and ability and emotional clarity.
When it comes to operas, its not only the players and producers who investits the audience. Because its a long piece, you need to stick with it, the director says. With a cast of more than 100, a majestic orchestra and dancers, its sure to deliver a visceral thrill. Many blessings come over the course of five hours, says Strassberger.
Les Huguenots will be performed at Bard Colleges Fisher Center on Friday, July 31, at 7pm; Sunday, August 2, at 3pm; Wednesday, August 5, at 3pm; and Friday, August 7, at 7pm. (845) 758-7900; www.fishercenter.bard.edu.
I am glad to see the faithful Huguenots remembered.
Just like the Crusades, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre is a club that is used to beat those darned papists over the head with.
Found this interesting note-
“August 24, 1572, was the date of the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France. On that day, over 400 years ago, began one of the most horrifying holocausts in history.”
“The French Protestants were called Huguenots: President George Washington had a Huguenot ancestor, as did at least 5 other Presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, James Garfield, and Theodore Roosevelt.
A Huguenot refugee named Apollos de Revoire settled in Boston, and had a son who signed his name Paul Revere! Remember his famous midnight ride? Three members of the Continental Congress - Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Elias Boudinot were Huguenots.
Other great names include Francis Marrion, General George Patton, Clair Chennault, Admiral Dewey, Du Ponts, Henry Thoreau, Longfellow etc., etc.”
“The Huguenots won a short period of relief from persecution with the ascension of Henry IV to the throne. The Edict of Nantes gave full freedom to his Protestants subjects. The signing of this Edict inaugurated an era of peace and great prosperity for France. However, for granting his subjects liberty of conscience, the king was stabbed to death by a Jesuit named Ravaillac. This Edict of Toleration was revoked in 1685, and a new storm of persecution ensued. The exodus began again with over a million Huguenots fleeing France to avoid certain torture and death.
The descendants of the survivors that reached America were determined that this tragedy should not occur here. Many of them were prominent in the founding of the country. They knew that an armed citizenry in France would have prevented this tragedy from ever happeningand as a resultthey gave us the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. They knew that freedom of religion and an armed citizenry go hand in hand.”
UCLA staged the opera around 40 years ago. I dated a lady who was in the chorus for that production. Her group was described as “Protestant Wenches”. The director said, “You’re the girls who go home with the soldiers at night.” Ah, opera humor.
The play drew rave reviews from Parisian elites when it opened in 1836, especially for the performance of Adolphe Nourrit and Cornelie Falcorn, primier opera star of France, who lost her ability to sing that very night. Nourrit went hoarse that October. For two years, he struggled to clear his condition. He never recovered from his underlying liver condition, and died in 1839.
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