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5.12.04

Auber's Haÿdée in Compiègne

Back in this post, from September 18, I mentioned Pierre Jourdan and the opera season at the Théâtre impérial de Compiègne. On their program is a little-known opera, Haÿdée, ou le secret, by Daniel Auber, which was reviewed by Jacques Doucelin (Auber sort de l'oubli, November 30) for Le Figaro.

What is striking about Haÿdée, as with Bizet and Halévy's Noé, is its homogeneity. If Jourdan cannot cast Alagna or Dessay, he makes it for it by profound work on style. He has placed, at the head of the young and excellent Orchestre Albéric Magnard, Michel Swierczewski, who already revived Christophe Colomb for the Milhaud centenary in 1992, with one Laurent Naouri in the lead, who has made it on his own since!

This experienced conductor loves this music and knows how to make us love it. That's what we see throughout, from the superb set backdrops of André Brasilier to the rich costumes of Pierre Capeyron. Isabelle Philippe puts on an easily sharp Haÿdée, with Anne-Sophie Schmidt at her side, more at ease as Rafaela than in Noé. In the frightening role of Lorédan, young tenor Bruno Comparetti shows courage that is often worth it and in true style. He is well surrounded by the nice tenor Mathias Vidal and the mean bass Paul Medioni.

How can one save Scribe's fluffy libretto? Like the worst vaudeville that exasperates instead of entertains, you wonder if the spoken dialogue should just be cut! The music, composed only six years before Verdi's La Traviata in 1853, is by a good craftsman who lacked genius. We listen to it, and it makes a link between Grétry and Bizet. Born seven years before the storming of the Bastille, Auber lived to the age of 90! No originality, but tunes designed well so that it was sure that each one would make the rounds of the neighborhoods and the score would be sold to bourgeois living rooms: that was how publicity worked in a century without television and cinema. It's what explains the opera's enormous success in Europe: 500 presentations in Paris alone! Why? The audience always prefers Salieri to Mozart.
Musicologist Herbert Schneider has the following information (and in something like English) on the company's Web site, that the opera was premiered on December 28, 1847, at the Théâtre de l'Opéra Comique, in the second Salle Favart. The libretto was derived from the Russian novel Six et quatre, translated by Prosper Mérimée. The ultimate choice of the name for the role of Haÿdée was probably not unrelated to the stunning success of Dumas's Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1845), whose heroine is named Haÿdée. It is also similar to the name Aïda chosen later by Ghislanzoni and Verdi. Haÿdée may be considered among Auber's best scores. Schneider gives the following synopsis of the action:
After the naval victory against the Turks, Loredan is tormented by a memory of a past event: winning by cheating, he ruined his best friend to save his own fortune. As he is dreaming in the famous so-called sleepwalking scene, he confesses his guilt. Malipieri, his rival and fierce enemy, who knows nothing but hate (like Iago in Othello), witnesses this scene and wants to take advantage of this indiscreet discovery to conquer Haÿdée and her wealth. Following terrible confrontations, Loredan remains steadfast and prefers to renounce his title of Doge of Venice. As for Haÿdée, revealed to be a Cyprus prince's daughter, she loves Loredan but she is ready to marry Malipieri ("to be his slave") to save Loredan.
Schneider also states that the opera was exceptional in the history of the opéra comique, because it was performed 499 times in Paris, premiered in Kassel on August 20, 1848, and then given in Munich and Vienna. Its considerable success in Germany is proven by Walter von Goethe's glowing review in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung in 1849.

Jourdan's commitment to reviving Auber's works is admirable. It is also a project that could last for decades. Do you realize how many operas that man wrote? Only a few are really known anymore, like La muette de Portici (1828), Fra Diavolo, ou L'hôtellerie de Terracine (1830). Among those unknown operas that interest me is his setting of Manon Lescaut (1856), prior to both Massenet and Puccini's versions, both memorable transformations of the beautiful story in Abbé Prévost's novel, L'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut.

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