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La Grand’Tante

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Opéra comique in one act premiered at the Opéra-Comique (Paris) on 3 April 1867. 

Returning from the Villa Medici in the autumn of 1866, Massenet was commissioned, as winner of the Prix de Rome, to write a curtain raiser for the Opéra-Comique. Initially called Alice, the libretto for La Grand’Tante tells the story of the Marquis de Kerdrel’s return from Africa. This young sergeant comes back to Brittany to claim a legacy and falls passionately in love with his great aunt, who is only 20 years old. As the action is centred around the will reading, the libretto affords few dramatic possibilities, but this did not seem to worry the young composer, who grabbed his first operatic opportunity with both hands. Hardworking and highly disciplined, Massenet submitted his score well before his fellow prize-winners and the work was included in the spring programme. Despite a bombastic overture, the music of La Grand’Tante is lively and elegant. Its melodic inspiration and sense of theatre already foreshadows the personality of the composer of Manon. During rehearsals in March 1867, Massenet made the acquaintance of the young Marie Heilbronn (the singer who later created the role of Manon) who was making her Opéra-Comique debut as Alice de Kerdrel. La Grand’Tante was premiered on 3 April 1867 as a curtain raiser to the Voyage en Chine (opéra comique by François Bazin). Alongside Caroline Girard (La Chevrette) and Victor Capoul (Guy de Kerdrel), Heilbronn was enthusiastically received by the audience at the Salle Favart. Although the work was a limited success, it nevertheless confirmed the young Massenet’s stage sense and operatic vocation. Dedicated to his teacher Ambroise Thomas, the manuscript score was lost in the fire at the Salle Favart in 1887. 


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