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Gounod's Polyeucte

In 1878, for the World's Fair in Paris, Charles Gounod premiered a new opera, Polyeucte, in the Palais Garnier. The composer thought of it as his best opera, but audiences tired of it after 29 performances and it has been all but forgotten since. The opera company in Saint-Etienne, L'Esplanade, has decided to revive it. An article by Jean-Louis Validire (Une curiosité sortie de l'oubli, March 13) in Le Figaro has a review (my translation):

Sometimes works disappear from the repertory because their faulty construction discourages directors and conductors and threatens to wear on the audience. This was demonstrated somewhat by what L'Esplanade de Saint-Etienne just did in exhuming Charles Gounod's Polyeucte. We should congratulate Jean-Louis Pichon, the director of the Saint-Etienne opera, who after so many years has given the public the chance -- which will probably be the only one -- to judge for themselves.
A review (Triomphale Résurrection, March 13) by Arnaud Buissonin for has more information and is a little more positive (my translation):
"I have never heard anything worse than this opera: it has five unbearable acts, in which not a single passage manages to rise above the mortally flat and colorless mass." That is what one fervent admirer of Faust, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, wrote to his friend Taneyev.
Jules Barbier and Michel Carré adapted the libretto from a tragedy by Pierre Corneille, Polyeucte (translated into English by Thomas Constable). It does not strike me as naturally suitable to opera.


Anonymous said...

Apparently, Tchaikovsky and Taneyev also didn’t like Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky called it a “mediocre” opera. Probably that’s why he decided to write his own version. He died soon after he started his work on it. Taneyev, after Tchaikovsky’s death, continued working on the opera... but for some reasons he didn’t go far with it... the whole endeavor ended with a love-duet for soprano and tenor (based on Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy-Overture) that “sounds like an excerpt from the Romeo & Juliet opera Tchaikovsky might have written, but didn't.”
p.s. Who knows, maybe if Tchaikovsky had lived long enough, the music world might have had not only his version of R&J but also his Polyeucte. :)

Sir G said...

Hey Charles!

It was my turn to host the philosopher's carnival this time, and this time it really was quite good: