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Pré aux clercs, Le (Planard / Hérold)

Date

1832.12.15

Text

From the Revolution to the Restoration, the French lived through a long period of political unrest which from time to time assumed the guise of civil wars, particularly in 1830. Even though peace seemed to have been restored, the time had now come for the French to exorcise their demons: as usual, the Paris opera stage did not tackle the subject head-on, but instead focused on the fratricidal war which started on Saint Bartholomew’s day (24 August 1572). The novel by Prosper Mérimée published in 1829—Chronique du temps de Charles IX—formed the basis for the libretto of the Pré aux clercs, premiered at the Opéra-Comique in 1832; four years later, Eugène Scribe’s book for Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots (a grand opera written for the Académie Royale de Musique) took its plot from the same source: the huge success of these two exactly contemporary works shows they were perfectly in keeping with the preoccupations of the time. In completing Le Pré aux clercs, Hérold produced his last opéra-comique (he died three weeks after the first performance) and his greatest success. From the overture to the vocal ensembles, the simplicity of the singing, the strength of the dramatic effects and the effectiveness of the choral writing not only reveal Rossini’s assimilation by his French contemporaries, but also the new ambitions of a supposedly light genre… “The music is the work’s most important point. The score is, quite frankly, admirable for its freshness, variety and melody. The overture is skilful, melodious and expansive. The trio and chorus from the masked ball in the second act, then the trio in the third, which the audience called for again with much stamping of feet, must ensure a very large, very well-deserved, and very lengthy success at the Opéra-Comique: le Pré aux Clercs.” (Le Corsaire, 17 December 1832)