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La Vestale

Librettiste(s) :
Date :
Musical ensemble:
Caroline Branchu dans La Vestale de Spontini

Tragédie lyrique in three acts, first performed at the Académie Impériale de Musique (Paris Opéra) on 15 December 1807. Dedicated to the Empress Josephine.

Guilty of having allowed the sacred fire to go out in the temple of Vesta while with her beloved (the Roman general Licinius), Julia is sentenced to death. As she is about to be buried alive, lightning reignites the flame, which is seen as a sign from the gods. The young vestal is released and is then married to Licinius. The plot is simple and the libretto focuses on the psychological depth of the protagonists and the transparency of the political allusions. In an opera dedicated to Josephine, how could anyone fail to identify the character of the victorious general, Licinius, with Napoleon Bonaparte? Furthermore, the tensions that appear in the last act between the determination of the military leader and that of a religious world intent on upholding its own laws (a dilemma settled by the gods themselves in the hero’s favour) has to be understood in the light of the Concordat of 1801. More than just a work of propaganda, La Vestale asserts itself through Spontini’s score as one of the links between the tragédie lyrique of the Ancien Régime and the grand opéra genre. The overlapping of the various numbers and the lively treatment of the various scenes testify to a densification of the dramatic action that was peculiar to Gluck’s successors at the Paris Opéra. Focusing on the character of Julia, the work requires the presence on stage of an exceptional soprano. Caroline Branchu (1780-1850), described by Berlioz as “la tragédie lyrique incarnée”(“the embodiment of tragédie lyrique”), made a lasting impression on her contemporaries when she created the role. And it was thanks to the charisma of Maria Callas that the work was revived in the twentieth century, at La Scala, Milan, in 1954.

Scientific publications

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publication date : 15/12/23

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