Volume AE006 of the Audio Encyclopedia is devoted to a single composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer. The CD contains at least one complete performance of each of the mature operas in monaural sound; wherever possible, versions in at least two languages are offered. The operas, conductors and principal cast members are:
Title Conductor Selected cast members
L'Africaine Riccardo Muti Jessye Norman; Veriano Lucchetti, Giangiacomo Guelfi
L'Africaine Gerd Albrecht Martina Arroyo; Giorgio Lamberti, Sherrill Milnes
Il Crociato in Egitto Gianfranco Masini Justino Diaz; Yvonne Kenny, Felicity Palmer
Dinorah Mats Liljefors Eva Mei; Fabio Previato, JÃ¶rg Schneider
Dinorah Axel Kobe Eun-Joo Park, Thomas de Vries, Frederic Hellgren
Ein Feldlager in Schlesien Fritz Weisse Norma Sharp, Ruthild Engert; JÃ¶rn W. Wilsing
Les Huguenots Robert Heger Karl Terkal, Gottlob Frick; Maud Cunitz, Valerie Bak
Les Huguenots Gianandrea Gavazzeni Franco Corelli, Nicolai Ghiaurov; Giulietta Simionato, Joan Sutherland
Les Huguenots Ernst MÃ¤rzendorfer Nicolai Gedda, Justino Diaz; Enriqueta Tarres, Rita Shane
L'Ã‰toile du Nord Roderick Brydon Malcolm King; Janet Price
Le ProphÃ¨te Henry Lewis Nicolai Gedda; Margeritha Rinaldi, Marilyn Horne
Le ProphÃ¨te Marcello Viotti Placido Domingo; Viktoria Loukianetz, Agnes Baltsa
Robert le Diable Nino Sanzogno Giorgio Merighi, Boris Christoff; Renata Scotto
Robert le Diable Marc Minkowski Jianyi Zhang, Kwangchoul Youn; Nelly Miricioiu
The disc includes synopses of the operas and historic selections to complement the complete recordings. However, it must be noted that "completeness" is not what we are accustomed to in operas not generally labelled "Grand". Scenes and numbers are cut and rearranged, arias are interpolated or abridged and other changes are made wholesale and retail. In part, that may be attributed to the length of the operas as composed, running in some cases more than four hours. In part, it reflects variations in performance practice even in Meyerbeer's day. Much as we may wish for a truly complete performance, the realities of modern production make that as improbable as gaining performances of Meyerbeer's early works.
While the transfers lack the sound quality of commercial recordings, each is a worthy realization of its score. The primary purpose of the disc is to embody in a single volume a synoptic view of Meyerbeer's evolution; such an overview is difficult to obtain with the large number of discs in conventional formats.
Clips with Descriptions
A century ago, the operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer were among the most popular in the great houses of the world. Within decades, they faded from public awareness except in recorded fragments and rare, abbreviated productions. Today, they are returning at least to festival stages in ever more "authentic" performances.
Several reasons have been espoused for their falling out of favor. Undoubtedly, convoluted libretti, costly productions and their length are factors, but a more significant one is the demands he placed on the singers. In particular, tenors able to manage both heroic and romantic expression over extreme dynamic and tonal ranges with grace and fioriture are hard to find. With the release of the CD-ROM, "The Operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer", there is an opportunity to survey those demands - and those Meyerbeer imposed on his other singers - across his nine mature operas. With the selections I offer here, you may discover that the less-known works are loaded with the challenges of the arias we have encountered before.
Il Crociato in Egito is set in Egypt and relates a tale of the Knights of Rhodes in the Sultanate of Damietta. The tenor, Adriano di Montfort, Rockwell Blake, offers a treaty to the Sultan in "Queste destre".
Robert le Diable is a fanciful tale of Robert, the unknownng son of the diabolic Bertram. Jianyi Zhang here sings "O fortune, a ton caprice" as he gambles away his possessions.
Les Huguenots and its aria "Plus blanche" are too well known to be excerpted here. Three recordings - in French, Italian and German - are on the CD-ROM and others, including a recent performance by OONY can be found if one searches the usual sources.
Ein Feldlager in Schlesien tells of the King of Prussia's encounters with the invading Hungarians and of Conrad's adventures in serving him. But it is not a "tenor's opera", so we can skip an example here.
Le ProphÃ¨te is, again, relatively familiar. Two performances are on the CD-ROM and commercial recordings are in the shops. John of Leyden is a problematic character and his great aria "Roi du ciel" is a tour de force for the tenor.
L'Ã‰toile du Nord is a tale of Peter the Great of Russia (basso) masquerading as a carpenter - see Lortzing's Zar und Zimmermann for a very different tale on the same idea. Here, the tenor Bonaventura Bottone tells how his sister has lost her reason in "Quel trouble affreux ".
L'Africaine and its great tenor aria are well known in both French and Italian. Whether it is "O Paradis" or "O Paradiso", it can stop the show in a production or a concert. Performances on the opera in both languages are on the disc - take your pick.