Fromental Halevy: La reine de Chypre (1841)

Grand opera en cinq actes. Running Time: 2 hours 29 minutes.

Special thanks to Ermenegildo Lyricomaniaque for uploading this opera in two videos, although I am not sure if this was illegally recorded at the concert performances of the work in Paris in June, 2017 (so I will not be providing a link here, you have to find it yourself if you wish) which were apparently the first in over 120 years. Halevy is the composer of La Juive, the post-humous father-in-law of Georges Bizet, and like his grand opera contemporary Meyerbeer, Jewish. But Wagner seems to have loved Halevy, even to the point of writing a piano transcription of the entire score of this opera! There is only one female soloist in the entire opera, Catherine Cornaro (sung by a soprano here although scored for a contralto) because the original mezzo-soprano who sang the role, Teresa Stoltz, never got along with other female soloists at the Opera and so operas she performed in in the later part of her career tend to be cast entirely male apart from her starring role.

PLOT: Venice (acts 1-2) and Cyprus (acts 3-5), 1441. Similar to Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro, Catherine’s engagement to Gerard is terminated when the Council of Ten decides to marry her off to the King of Cyprus, otherwise her father will be executed. She is forced by Mocenigo to tell Gerard to get lost but he later shows up in Cyprus, is saved by her husband (both men in disguise) and the two men bizarrely swear eternal brotherhood to each other which becomes a problem when at the wedding feast Gerard almost assassinates the King who throws him into prison for two years when an attempted coup by the wicked Mocenigo (who causes most of the problems in the opera) is defeated by Gerard who gives up his suit for Catherine as the King dies from poisoning by the Venetians and hands over his crown to Catherine to the acclaim of the Cypriots. Whew!

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: A grand hall in the Cornaro palace, Venice. 43 minutes.

0: The overture (or is it prelude?) of four minutes has one melody that gets repeated over and over again in various states of pleasantry and agitation and if it wasn’t so similar to the melody of the Meditation in Massenet’s Thais you would get bored of it quickly, but it is perfectly serviceable *. It appears to only be about half of the actual overture as the vocal score has about eight more pages.

5: Rapidly we go from a brief recitative by Catherine into a nice little serenade by Gerard to a solo harp accompaniment and he has some nice high D-flats and the second go has a much richer accompaniment **.

8: The love duet * is rather standard but charming in its own way. It has one nice tune but I am so preoccupied with how high the tenor part is and how low the female part. The highest note for the “soprano” is a high B-flat5 (the lowest is a low B-flat3) and the tenor goes up to a D5!

17: Catherine’s father Andrea arrives and there is a mild trio *. There are times here when the “soprano” is singing lower than the tenor if you can believe it. Catherine is on an F4 when Gerard is on a B-flat4 at one point.

21: Mocenigo arrives with the news from the Council of Ten: Catherine must marry the King of Cyprus, not Gerard, otherwise Andrea will be executed. Daddy has an hour to decide. Mocenigo appears to be a barytone-martin, a specifically French vocal type that one would easily mistake for a tenor (it is even written in the treble clef like a tenor part but one will notice that the range is much more limited than a tenor (C3 up to A4). What makes it a different baritone voice is that the lower octave is strong and the voice tends to float around E3 to E4 rather than a normal tenor range of about F or G3 to G or A4. The duet itself is alright, but more interesting in terms of the plot than musically *.

31: There is a march leading into a chorus of maidens. This is rather sweet but then the men join them and it gets richer **. Everything is ready for the wedding and Catherine and Gerard are at the altar when– there should be a ballet here but it is cut.

37: Andrea calls the wedding off! There is shock horror from everyone else: chorus petrified, Catherine attacks her father claiming he has no right to revoke her vow but Andrea rebukes his daughter. Gerard is just shocked. Everything ends up as a dizzy spell and the finale as a whole lacks cohesion * but at least it does get the job done dramatically.

ACT 2: Catherine’s chambers. 24.5 minutes.

1: A quiet opening of church bells, flute, and strings brings in Catherine’s air with a hardy if not all that catchy series of tunes *. The horns become a little overbearing though.

12: In theory there is then a recitative between Andrea and his daughter in which the latter says that Heaven will judgement for what he has done to destroy her marriage to Gerard, Mocenigo shows up and there is an orchestral explosion as he tells Catherine she has to tell Gerard that she does not love him *. Catherine contemplates suicide, but it is no use. Gerard arrives and he and Catherine embark on a duet-finale.

14: Gerard has some soft high tenor sweet nothings ** but he is also getting poorly picked up by the recording equipment (not something I can say of the “soprano”) and again there are many time when he is actually singing higher than her.

23: Suddenly there is incredible agitation in the brass as they say goodbye **. Gerard departs just as Mocenigo arrives with his thugs and they kidnap Catherine to go to Cyprus. Extreme agitation in the orchestra as the curtain falls.

ACT 3: A hall in the royal palace, Cyprus. 22 minutes.

3: A crude but jolly festival intro brings on the feasting of rogues in an equally jolly chorus. After some recitative from Mocenigo there is a repeat of the chorus which is actually better the second time around now that Strozzi, their leader (and a tenor) leads the men in a rather dapper drinking song **. Mocenigo interrogates Strozzi who tells him that Gerard has been seen about these parts, they decide to kill him.

8: There should be a ballet and choeur-danse here but it is apparently cut so instead we go into the duet between Gerard (who has just been saved from being set upon by the rogues) and his saviour, Jacques, the king of Cyprus. Their duet in which they exchange stories but not names and swear eternal brotherhood is rather good ** if at first rather slow. It is also very long (14 minutes).

ACT 4: The Wedding Banquet. (23.5 minutes)

6: The opening chorus is loud and bright but oddly devoid of substance. The herald his bit and then there is yet another chorus, this one with a touching countryside lilt to it and then explodes *.

10: The King does his thing and then there is a rousing march-chorus * followed by more grand marching.

14: Gerard makes his assassination attempt, failure, recognizes that the guy is the man who saved his life and is his sworn brother.  The King recognizes Gerard and can not execute him so he has him arrested. There is some nobility in the orchestra as we go off into the finale *.

20: The finale takes a while to finally rise to greatness, when it does it just coasts into the realm of good opera **.

ACT 5 (38 minutes)

Scene 1: A room in the palace, two years later.

4: After some orchestral introduction, Catherine gives us a report on the King’s health. Very bad, the doctors have no idea (oh really?). After the King shows signs of life Catherine gives us a nice couplet *, much of it about Gerard.

9: The King is also worried about Gerard being in the subterranean cell. His cavatine to that effect is rather sweet **.

17: Gerard shows up and he reveals to the King that he is being poisoned by the Venetian doctors and that he (Gerard) is in love with Catherine who then shows up and she and Gerard have a duet **. It has one nice theme which Catherine starts off on.

21: Mocenigo arrives and reveals that he wants to take power for himself and have the two former lovers done away with after the King dies. He has an army waiting to take over once the King is pronounced dead.

27: The King returns and the four embark on a quartet ***. This is possibly the best number in the opera. Gerard volunteers to save the Crown from Mocenigo as the latter menaces his way out.

Scene 2: The Port of Nicosia.

33: The finale **, four minutes in length begins with a grand marching battle cry: Gerard is victorious over Mocenigo. Then some low voltage recitative as the King dies but not before giving Catherine the crown, the people acclaim and there is one finale chorus as Gerard leaves Catherine to her realm and the curtain falls.

COMMENT:

This is not the best example of a grand opera. It is already massively cut, all of the ballets are not here as well as several of the choral numbers. What remains is mostly only so-so, some of it good, and one number truly grand. The plot is rather uncomfortable, the lovers are never reunited, at least not romantically. Catherine does get her crown in the end but not before a lot of strange circumstances the most bizarre being the brotherhood oath of King Jacques and Gerard. This would be more dramatically interesting if it happened earlier in the opera, here it happens in the scene just before it matters to the plot. I can not help but feel that the role of Catherine is vocally restricted and that casting a soprano in a role that is obviously designed for a mezzo-soprano was not a good idea. It is obvious that Gerard is the vocally ornamental role, and also the most interesting. The plot is also dangerously thin, with each act consisting of essentially one or two plot elements. Overall this isn’t a bad opera, just a strikingly average one. B/B-.

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2 thoughts on “Fromental Halevy: La reine de Chypre (1841)

  1. Awesome site! I really like your write-ups of obscure, underloved operas – and your fondness for Meyerbeer!

    I was lucky enough to attend the concert in Paris last year. (I made it my excuse for flying from Australia.)
    Stunning, even though the poor tenor, Sébastien Droy, was inadequate. He was called in at the last moment after *both* the guy who was meant to sing it and his understudy fell sick. He only saw the score the morning of the performance; his voice gave out, and he fronted a hostile Paris public; and the press roasted him. Rumor has it Bru Zane will do a studio recording with another tenor. Gens was amazing; she and Niquet signed my programme. Afterwards, I went by metro to the Opéra, and stood in front of Halévy’s bust, paying my respects.

    Halévy is really a composer who needs to be rediscovered. Wagner admired him, as you say; Berlioz wrote glowing reviews of his operas; and Théophile Gautier hailed “Le juif errant” as a major philosophical work. “La juive” sits firmly in my top ten, and – cut, and in rough sound as they are – there’s much to admire in both “Charles VI” and “La magicienne”.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for being the first person to comment at Phil’s Opera World! I am always looking for suggestions of operas to review for the blog and around two years ago I listened to both of the Halevy operas you referenced at the end of your post, so I do know where to find them again. Perhaps some more Halevy will be in the works then! Again, thank you so much for commenting and I encourage all my viewers to do the same!

      Liked by 1 person

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