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Djamileh (Gallet / Bizet)

Opéra comique in one act premiered at the Opéra-Comique (Paris)

After its premiere at the Opéra-Comique, Djamileh was criticized for taking its inspiration from an insufficiently theatrical subject. As it happens, Alfred de Musset’s Namouna (1832) nevertheless saw other successful attempts at its staging, including Lalo’s ballet by the same title. Bizet worked on his score between July and December 1871. An enthusiastic Orientalist and incredible colourist, Georges Bizet displays all his consummate expertise and masterful orchestration in this miniature. In fact, Félix Clément noted – commenting on the overture – that “the concordance of sounds is so peculiar that the music heard in the time of Ramesses and Sesostris would not appear any more extraordinary to modern ears” (Dictionnaire des opéras, supplement, 1872). He nevertheless added: “The rest seemed to be bristling with dissonances and harmonic cacophony, in comparison with which Berlioz’s boldness was child’s play.” Listened to with the hindsight of history, however, the music offers neither dreadful experiments nor a brutal stylistic break, but rather a finely chiselled discourse, perfectly in tune with the location of the plot (Cairo, Egypt), and denoting an awareness of the most modern music of the time. Is this why, as a great admirer of the opera, Gustav Mahler conducted it nearly twenty times at the Vienna Opera between 1898 and 1903? The title role contains several passages showcasing the sensuous tones of the mezzo-soprano’s tessitura, forming a study in the style of the not-yet-written Carmen. One aspect may remain problematic if not worked on with conviction: the spoken dialogue, which was never replaced by sung recitatives and may prove to be a stumbling block for non-French-speaking artists. The absence of recitatives has no doubt also played against the revivals of the score abroad. The work was performed eleven times between 22 May and 29 June 1872, and then revived at the Opéra-Comique for eleven further performances between 1938 and 1950.


publication date : 22/05/24

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