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Olympie (Dieulafoy & Brifaut / Spontini)

Date

1819.12.22

Description

Tragédie lyrique in three acts to a libretto by Michel Dieulafoy and Charles Brifaut, after Voltaire, premiered at the Paris Opéra on 22 December 1819. Second version premiered in 1826 under the title of Olimpie.

Text

Some works receive a cool reception from audiences simply because they are out of kilter with popular taste at that time. So, when the curtain rose on Olympie (libretto by Michel Dieulafoy and Charles Brifaut after the tragedy by Voltaire) on 22 December 1819 at the Paris Opéra, the age of the Gluckian tragédie lyrique had already passed. Caroline Branchu playing the role of Statira, Louis Nourrit (Adolphe’s father) as Cassandre and Henri-Étienne Dérivis as the traitor, Antigone, were not enough to tip the scales in its favour, neither were the sumptuous stage sets by Degotti and Ciceri. To make matters worse, the Duke of Berry was assassinated on 13 February 1820 at the entrance to the Académie Royale de Musique, which caused the theatre to close. This led to uncertainty about reviving a work that tackled the subject of regicide… Olympie continued its career—successfully—in Berlin in 1821: the libretto, translated into German by E.T.A. Hoffmann, was altered in order to give the work a happy ending. On 27 February 1826, this optimistic version was staged in French in Paris. At this time, Romantic grand opera was in the process of emerging from its shell, helped unwittingly by Spontini (he still preferred the tragédie lyrique): conflict between individual passions and common goals, contrast between martial strength and noble tenderness, the creation of vast scenes in order to preserve continuity (numerous arias and ensembles linked seamlessly to the next number), lavish orchestration contributing to the drama, inclusion of a ballet. Unfortunately, however, Olimpie was withdrawn after five performances. Berlioz was aggrieved about such an occurrence after discovering this “sublime work, worthy in every way of the composer of La Vestale”.