Grand Opera

Grand Opera

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Grand opera is a genre of 19th-century opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 generally in four or five acts, characterised by large-scale casts and orchestras, and (in their original productions) lavish and spectacular design and stage effects, normally with plots based on or around dramatic historic events. The term is particularly applied (sometimes specifically using in its French language equivalent grand opéra, (gʁɑ̃ ɔpeˈʁa ) to certain productions of the Paris Opéra
Paris Opera
The Paris Opera is the primary opera company of Paris, France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and renamed the Académie Royale de Musique...

 from the late 1820s to around 1850; 'grand opéra' has sometimes been used to denote the Paris Opéra itself.

The term 'grand opera' is also used in a broader application in respect of contemporary or later works of similar monumental proportions from France, Germany, Italy and other countries.
It may also be used colloquially in an imprecise sense to refer to 'serious opera without spoken dialogue'.

Origins


Paris at the turn of the 19th century drew in many composers, both French and foreign, and especially those of opera. Several Italians working during this period including Luigi Cherubini
Luigi Cherubini
Luigi Cherubini was an Italian composer who spent most of his working life in France. His most significant compositions are operas and sacred music. Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his contemporaries....

 demonstrated that the use of recitative was suited for the powerful dramas that were being written. Others, such as Gaspare Spontini
Gaspare Spontini
Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini was an Italian opera composer and conductor, extremely celebrated in his time, though largely forgotten after his death.-Biography:...

, wrote works to glorify Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

. These operas were composed on a suitably grand scale for the Emperor. Other factors which led to Parisian supremacy at operatic spectacle was the ability of the large Paris Opéra to stage sizeable works and recruit leading stage-painters, designers and technicians, and the long tradition of French ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

 and stagecraft. The first theatre performance ever lit by gas, for example, was Aladin ou La lampe merveilleuse at the Opéra in 1823; and the theatre had on its staff the innovative designers Duponchel, Cicéri and Daguerre
Louis Daguerre
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was a French artist and physicist, recognized for his invention of the daguerreotype process of photography.- Biography :...

.

Several operas by Gaspare Spontini
Gaspare Spontini
Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini was an Italian opera composer and conductor, extremely celebrated in his time, though largely forgotten after his death.-Biography:...

, Luigi Cherubini
Luigi Cherubini
Luigi Cherubini was an Italian composer who spent most of his working life in France. His most significant compositions are operas and sacred music. Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his contemporaries....

, and Gioachino Rossini can be regarded as precursors to French grand opera. These include Spontini's La vestale
La vestale
La vestale is an opera composed by Gaspare Spontini to a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy. It was first performed at the Paris Opéra in Paris on December 15, 1807 and is regarded as Spontini's masterpiece...

 (1807) and Fernand Cortez
Fernand Cortez
Fernand Cortez, ou La conquête du Mexique is an opéra in three acts by Gaspare Spontini with a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Joseph-Alphonse d’Esmenard...

 (1809, revised 1817), Cherubini's Les Abencérages
Les Abencérages
Les Abencérages, ou L'étendard de Grenade is an opera in three acts by Luigi Cherubini with a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy, based on the novel Gonzalve de Cordoue by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian...

 (1813), and Rossini's Le siège de Corinthe
Le siège de Corinthe
Le siège de Corinthe is an opera in three acts by Gioachino Rossini to a French libretto by Luigi Balocchi and Alexandre Soumet, based on Maometto II by Cesare della Valle...

 (1827) and Moïse et Pharaon
Mosè in Egitto
Mosè in Egitto is a three-act opera written by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola, which was based on a play by Francesco Ringhieri, L'Osiride, of 1760....

 (1828). All of these have some of the characteristics of size and spectacle that are normally associated with French grand opera. Another important forerunner was Il crociato in Egitto
Il crociato in Egitto
Il crociato in Egitto is an opera in two acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer, with a libretto by Gaetano Rossi. It was first performed at La Fenice theatre, Venice on 7 March, 1824. The part of Armando was sung by the famous castrato, Giovanni Battista Velluti; the opera was probably the last ever written...

 by Meyerbeer
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Giacomo Meyerbeer was a noted German opera composer, and the first great exponent of "grand opera." At his peak in the 1830s and 1840s, he was the most famous and successful composer of opera in Europe, yet he is rarely performed today.-Early years:He was born to a Jewish family in Tasdorf , near...

, who eventually became the acknowledged king of the grand opera genre. In Il crociato, which was produced by Rossini in Paris in 1825 after success in Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 and London, Meyerbeer succeeded in blending Italian singing-style with an orchestral style derived from his German training, introducing a far wider range of musical theatre effects than traditional Italian opera. Moreover, Il crociato with its exotic historical setting, onstage bands, spectacular costumes and themes of culture clash, exhibited many of the features on which the popularity of grand opera would be based.

What became the essential features of 'grand opéra' were foreseen by Etienne de Jouy, the librettist of Guillaume Tell, in an essay of 1826:

Division into five acts seems to me the most suitable for any opera that would reunite the elements of the genre: [...] where the dramatic focus was combined with the marvellous: where the nature and majesty of the subject [...] demanded the addition of attractive festivities and splendid civil and religious ceremonies to the natural flow of the action, and consequently needed frequent scene changes.

The first grand operas (1828–1829)



The first opera of the grand opera canon is, by common consent, La muette de Portici
La muette de Portici
La muette de Portici originally called Masaniello, ou La muette de Portici, is an opera in five acts by Daniel Auber, with a libretto by Germain Delavigne, revised by Eugène Scribe...

 (1828) by Daniel François Auber
Daniel Auber
Daniel François Esprit Auber was a French composer.-Biography:The son of a Paris print-seller, Auber was born in Caen in Normandy. Though his father expected him to continue in the print-selling business, he also allowed his son to learn how to play several musical instruments...

. This tale of revolution set in Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 in 1647 (and ending with an eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting...

 into which the heroine precipitates herself), embodied the musical and scenic sensationalism which were to be grand opera's hallmark. The libretto for La muette was by Eugène Scribe
Eugène Scribe
Augustin Eugène Scribe , was a French dramatist and librettist. He is best known for the perfection of the so-called "well-made play" . This dramatic formula was a mainstay of popular theater for over 100 years.-Biography:...

, a dominant force in French theatre of the time who specialized in melodramatic versions (often involving extremes of coincidence) of historical topics which were well-tailored for the public taste of the time. This was his first libretto for the Opéra; he was to write or be associated with many of the libretti of the most successful grand operas which followed. La muettes reputation was enhanced by its being the touchpaper for a genuine revolution when it was produced in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 in 1830.

In 1829 this was followed by Rossini's swan-song Guillaume Tell
William Tell (opera)
Guillaume Tell is an opera in four acts by Gioachino Rossini to a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Hippolyte Bis, based on Friedrich Schiller's play Wilhelm Tell. Based on the legend of William Tell, this opera was Rossini's last, even though the composer lived for nearly forty more years...

. The resourceful Rossini, having largely created a style of Italian opera to which European theatre had been in thrall, recognized the potential of new technology, larger theatres and orchestras and modern instrumentation and proved in this work that he could rise to meet them in this undoubted grand opera. But his comfortable financial position, and the change in political climate after the July Revolution
July Revolution
The French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution or in French, saw the overthrow of King Charles X of France, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who himself, after 18 precarious years on the throne, would in turn be overthrown...

, persuaded him to quit the field, and this was his last public composition.

The golden age of grand opera: 1830–1850


After the Revolution, the new regime determined to privatize the previously state-run Opéra and the winner of the contract was a businessman who acknowledged that he knew nothing of music, Louis-Désiré Véron. However he soon showed himself extremely shrewd at discerning public taste by investing heavily in the grand opera formula. His first new production was a work long contracted from Meyerbeer, whose premiere had been delayed by the Revolution. This was fortunate for both Véron and Meyerbeer. As Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts . Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a...

 commented, Meyerbeer had "not only the luck to be talented, but the talent to be lucky." His new opera Robert le diable
Robert le diable (opera)
Robert le diable is an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, often regarded as the first grand opera. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Casimir Delavigne and has little connection to the medieval legend of Robert the Devil. Originally planned as a three-act opéra comique, "Meyerbeer persuaded...

 chimed well with the liberal sentiments of 1830s France. Moreover, its potent mixture of melodrama, spectacle, titillation (including a ballet of the ghosts of debauched nuns), and dramatic arias and choruses went down extremely well with the new leaders of taste, the affluent bourgeoisie. The success of Robert was as spectacular as its production.

Over the next few years, Véron brought on Auber's Gustave III
Gustave III (opera)
Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué is an opéra historique or grand opera in five acts by Daniel Auber, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe.-Performance history:...

 (1833, libretto by Scribe, later adapted for Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

's Un ballo in maschera
Un ballo in maschera
Un ballo in maschera , is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with text by Antonio Somma. The libretto is loosely based on an 1833 play, Gustave III, by French playwright Eugène Scribe who wrote about the historical assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden...

), and Fromental Halévy
Fromental Halévy
Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy, usually known as Fromental Halévy , was a French composer. He is known today largely for his opera La Juive.-Early career:...

's La Juive
La Juive
La Juive is a grand opera in five acts by Fromental Halévy to an original French libretto by Eugène Scribe; it was first performed at the Opéra, Paris, on February 23, 1835.-Composition history:...

 (1835, libretto also by Scribe), and commissioned Meyerbeer's next opera Les Huguenots
Les Huguenots
Les Huguenots is a French opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, one of the most popular and spectacular examples of the style of grand opera. The opera is in five acts and premiered in Paris in 1836. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps....

 (1836, libretto by Scribe and Deschamps), whose success was to prove the most enduring of all grand operas during the 19th century.

Having made a fortune in his stewardship of the Opéra, Véron cannily handed on his concession to Duponchel, who continued his winning formula, if not to such financial reward. Between 1838 and 1850, the Paris Opéra staged numerous grand operas of which the most notable were Halévy's La reine de Chypre
La reine de Chypre
La reine de Chypre is an 1841 grand opera composed by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.-Background:...

 (1841) and Charles VI
Charles VI (opera)
Charles VI is an 1843 French grand opera in five acts with music composed by Fromental Halevy and a libretto by Casimir Delavigne and his brother Germain Delavigne.-Performance history:...

 (1843), Donizetti's La favorite
La favorite
La favorite is an opera in four acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a French-language libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, based on the play Le comte de Comminges by Baculard d'Arnaud...

 (1840) and Dom Sébastien
Dom Sébastien
Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal is a French grand opera in five acts by Gaetano Donizetti. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe, based on Paul Foucher's play Don Sébastien de Portugal , a historic-fiction about King Sebastian of Portugal and his ill-fated 1578 expedition to Morocco...

 (1843, librettos by Scribe), and Meyerbeer's Le prophète
Le prophète
Le prophète is an opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French-language libretto was by Eugène Scribe.-Performance history:...

 (1849) (Scribe again). 1847 saw the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

's first opera for Paris, Jérusalem
Jérusalem
Jérusalem is a grand opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi, set to a French libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz which was partly translated and adapted from Verdi's original 1843 Italian opera, I Lombardi alla prima crociata...

, an adaptation, meeting the grand opera conventions, of his earlier I Lombardi alla prima crociata
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
I Lombardi alla prima crociata is an operatic dramma lirico in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on an epic poem by Tommaso Grossi. Its first performance was given at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 11 February 1843...

.

For production statistics of grand opera in Paris, see List of performances of French grand operas at the Paris Opéra.

Ballet in grand opera


A notable feature of grand opera as it developed in Paris through the 1830s was the presence of a lavish ballet, to appear at or near the beginning of its second act. This was required, not for aesthetic reasons, but to satisfy the demands of the Opera's wealthy and aristocratic patrons, many of whom were more interested in the dancers themselves than in the opera, and did not want their regular meal-times disturbed. The ballet therefore became an important element in the social prestige of the Opéra. Composers who did not comply with this tradition might suffer as a consequence, as did Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 with his attempt to stage a revised Tannhäuser
Tannhäuser (opera)
Tannhäuser is an opera in three acts, music and text by Richard Wagner, based on the two German legends of Tannhäuser and the song contest at Wartburg...

 as a grand opera in Paris in 1861, which had to be withdrawn after three performances, partly because the ballet was in act 1.

Grand operas of the 1850s and 1860s


The most significant development—indeed transformation—of grand opera after the 1850s was its handling by Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

, whose Les vêpres siciliennes
Les vêpres siciliennes
Les vêpres siciliennes is an opéra in five acts by the Italian romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi set to a French libretto by Charles Duveyrier and Eugène Scribe from their work Le duc d'Albe, which was written in 1838 and offered to Halevy and Donizetti before Verdi...

 (1855), proved to be more widely given in Italy and other Italian language opera houses than in France. The taste for luxury and extravagance at the French theatre declined after the 1848 revolution, and new productions on the previous scale were not so commercially viable. The popular Faust
Faust (opera)
Faust is a drame lyrique in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, in turn loosely based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Part 1...

 (1859) by Charles Gounod
Charles Gounod
Charles-François Gounod was a French composer, known for his Ave Maria as well as his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette.-Biography:...

 started life as an opéra comique
Opéra comique
Opéra comique is a genre of French opera that contains spoken dialogue and arias. It emerged out of the popular opéra comiques en vaudevilles of the Fair Theatres of St Germain and St Laurent , which combined existing popular tunes with spoken sections...

 and did not become a grand opera until rewritten in the 1860s. Les Troyens
Les Troyens
Les Troyens is a French opera in five acts by Hector Berlioz. The libretto was written by Berlioz himself, based on Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid...

 by Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts . Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a...

 (composed 1856–1858, later revised), was not given a full performance until nearly a century after Berlioz had died—although portions had been staged before—but the spirit of this work is far removed from the bourgeois taste of the grand opera of the 1830s and 1840s.

By the 1860s, taste for the grand style was returning. La reine de Saba
La reine de Saba
La reine de Saba is a grand opera in four or five acts by Charles Gounod to a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré inspired by Gérard de Nerval's Le voyage en Orient...

 by Charles Gounod
Charles Gounod
Charles-François Gounod was a French composer, known for his Ave Maria as well as his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette.-Biography:...

 was rarely given in its entirety, although the big tenor aria, "Inspirez-moi, race divine," was later made famous in a recording by Enrico Caruso. Meyerbeer died on 2 May 1864; his late opera, L'Africaine
L'Africaine
L'africaine is a grand opera, the last work of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French libretto was written by Eugène Scribe. The opera is about fictitious events in the life of the real historical person Vasco da Gama...

, was premiered posthumously in 1865. Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

 returned to Paris for what many see as the greatest French grand opera, Don Carlos
Don Carlos
Don Carlos is a five-act grand opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi to a French language libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry, based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien by Friedrich Schiller...

 (1867). Ambroise Thomas contributed his Hamlet
Hamlet (opera)
Hamlet is an opéra in five acts by the French composer Ambroise Thomas, with a libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier based on a French adaptation by Alexandre Dumas, père and Paul Meurice of Shakespeare's play Hamlet.- Ophelia mania in Paris:...

 in 1868, and finally, at the end of the decade, the revised Faust
Faust (opera)
Faust is a drame lyrique in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, in turn loosely based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Part 1...

 was premiered at the Opéra in its grand opera format.

Late French grand operas


During the 1870s and 1880s, a new generation of French composers continued to produce large-scale works in the tradition of grand opera but often broke its melodramatic boundaries. The influence of Wagner's operas began to be felt, and it is a moot point whether these works can be simply called grand opera. Jules Massenet
Jules Massenet
Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet was a French composer best known for his operas. His compositions were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he ranks as one of the greatest melodists of his era. Soon after his death, Massenet's style went out of fashion, and many of his operas...

 had at least two large scale historical works to his credit, Le roi de Lahore
Le roi de Lahore
Le roi de Lahore is an opera in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis Gallet. It was first performed at the Palais Garnier in Paris on 27 April 1877....

 (Paris, 1877, assessed by Grove as "the last grand opera to have a great and widespread success.") and Le Cid
Le Cid (opera)
Le Cid is an opera in four acts and ten tableaux by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis Gallet, Édouard Blau and Adolphe d'Ennery. It is based on the play of the same name by Pierre Corneille....

 (Paris, 1885). Other works in this category include Polyeucte
Polyeucte (opera)
Polyeucte is an opéra by Charles Gounod based on the play about Saint Polyeuctus by Pierre Corneille. The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré is more faithful to its source than Les martyrs, Scribe's adaptation for Donizetti, and Gounod hoped to express "the unknown and irresistable...

 (Paris, 1878) by Charles Gounod
Charles Gounod
Charles-François Gounod was a French composer, known for his Ave Maria as well as his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette.-Biography:...

 and Henry VIII
Henry VIII (opera)
Henry VIII is an opera in four acts by Camille Saint-Saëns, from a libretto by Léonce Détroyat and Armand Silvestre, based on El cisma en Inglaterra by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.-Composition history:...

 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Camille Saint-Saëns
Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French Late-Romantic composer, organist, conductor, and pianist. He is known especially for The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah, Piano Concerto No. 2, Cello Concerto No. 1, Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and his Symphony...

 (Paris, 1883). Ernest Reyer
Ernest Reyer
Ernest Reyer, the adopted name of Louis Étienne Ernest Rey, was a French opera composer and music critic .- Biography :...

 had started to compose his Sigurd
Sigurd (opera)
Sigurd is an opera in four acts and nine scenes by the French composer Ernest Reyer on a libretto by Camille du Locle and Alfred Blau. Like Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, the story is based on the Niebelungenlied and the Eddas, with some crucial differences from the better known Wagnerian version...

 years before, but, unable to get it premiered in Paris, settled for La Monnaie
La Monnaie
Le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie , or the Koninklijke Muntschouwburg is a theatre in Brussels, Belgium....

 in Brussels (1884). What may have been one of the last successful French grand operas was by an unfamiliar composer, Émile Paladilhe
Emile Paladilhe
Émile Paladilhe was a French composer of the late romantic period.-Biography:Émile Paladilhe was born in Montpellier. He was a musical child prodigy, and moved from his home in the south of France to Paris to begin his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris at age 10...

: Patrie! (Paris, 1886). It ran up nearly 100 performances in Paris, and quite a few in Belgium, where the action takes place, but has since disappeared without a trace.

Decline of French grand opera


There are three distinctly separate factors that resulted in the decline of French grand opera:
  • Fewer new operas were being composed in the grand opera format as the style became less fashionable (and more expensive to produce).
  • The disappearance of works from the repertory to make way for new fashions (e.g. verismo
    Verismo
    Verismo was an Italian literary movement which peaked between approximately 1875 and the early 1900s....

    ).
  • Contempt for the format by the supporters of Wagnerian opera.


The expensive artifacts of grand opera (which also demanded expensive singers)—Les Huguenots was known as the night of the seven stars because of its requirement of seven top-grade artistes—meant that they were economically the most vulnerable as new repertoire developed. Hence they lost pride of place at the Paris Opéra (especially when many of the original stage sets were lost in fire in the late 19th century). However, as late as 1917, the Gaité Lyrique devoted an entire season to the genre, including Halévy's La reine de Chypre
La reine de Chypre
La reine de Chypre is an 1841 grand opera composed by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.-Background:...

.

Wagner had aggressively attacked grand opera in his long essay "Oper und Drama" ("Opera and Drama
Opera and Drama
"Opera and Drama" is a long essay written by Richard Wagner in 1851 setting out his ideas on the ideal characteristics of opera as an art form...

", 1851) and other works. With the rise in influence of Wagnerian music and ideas, several French composers, notably Vincent d'Indy
Vincent d'Indy
Vincent d'Indy was a French composer and teacher.-Life:Paul Marie Théodore Vincent d'Indy was born in Paris into an aristocratic family of royalist and Catholic persuasion. He had piano lessons from an early age from his paternal grandmother, who passed him on to Antoine François Marmontel and...

, Ernest Chausson
Ernest Chausson
Amédée-Ernest Chausson was a French romantic composer who died just as his career was beginning to flourish.-Life:Ernest Chausson was born in Paris into a prosperous bourgeois family...

, and Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th century composers...

, sought to follow Wagner with works like Fervaal
Fervaal
Fervaal is an opera in three acts with a prologue by the French composer Vincent d'Indy, his opus 40. The composer wrote his own libretto, based in part on the lyric poem Axel by the Swedish author Esaias Tegnér...

, Le roi Arthus
Le roi Arthus
Le roi Arthus is an opera in three acts by the French composer Ernest Chausson to his own libretto. It was composed between 1886 and 1895, but only first performed on 30 November 1903 at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, after long delays...

 and Pénélope
Pénélope
Pénélope is an opera in three acts by the French composer Gabriel Fauré. The libretto, by René Fauchois, is based on Homer's Odyssey. It was first performed at the Salle Garnier, Monte Carlo on 4 March 1913.-Background and performance history:...

, respectively, abandoning the grand opera traditions.

French grand opera today


Today these works are rarely given live performance, as their sheer length and the expense of staging them can still be prohibitive, even for the largest opera house
Opera house
An opera house is a theatre building used for opera performances that consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building...

s. However, they are increasingly being resuscitated for Compact Disc recordings, and many are revived at opera festivals and regional opera houses such as that at Compiègne
Compiègne
Compiègne is a city in northern France. It is designated municipally as a commune within the département of Oise.The city is located along the Oise River...

.

Italy


French grand opera was generally well received in Italy, where of course it was always performed in Italian translation.

Italian operas with their own ballet started to become relatively common in the late 1860s and 1870s. Some of these, such as Il Guarany
Il Guarany
Il Guarany is an opera ballo composed by Antônio Carlos Gomes, based on the novel O Guarani, written by José de Alencar. The libretto was written by Antonio Scalvini and Carlo D'Ormeville.-Performance history:...

 by the Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Gomes
Antônio Carlos Gomes
Antônio Carlos Gomes was the first New World composer whose work was accepted by Europe.-Life:He was born in Campinas, Brazil, son of Maestro Manuel José Gomes and Fabiana Maria Jaguari Cardoso....

 were designated as "opera ballo" (i.e. 'danced opera'). Others, such as La Gioconda
La Gioconda (opera)
La Gioconda is an opera in four acts by Amilcare Ponchielli set to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Angelo, tyran de Padoue, a play in prose by Victor Hugo, dating from 1835...

 by Amilcare Ponchielli
Amilcare Ponchielli
Amilcare Ponchielli was an Italian composer, largely of operas.-Biography:Born in Paderno Fasolaro, now Paderno Ponchielli, near Cremona, Ponchielli won a scholarship at the age of nine to study music at the Milan Conservatory, writing his first symphony by the time he was ten years old.Two years...

 were not, although they qualified for the description. They constituted an evolution of grand opera.

Verdi's
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

 Aida
Aida
Aida sometimes spelled Aïda, is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette...

, despite having only four acts, corresponds in many ways to the grand opera formula. It has a historical setting, deals with 'culture clash' and contains several ballets as well as its extremely well known Grand March. It was a huge success, both at its world premiere in Cairo and its Italian premiere in Milan, resulting in an increase in the scale of some of the works by other composers that followed it. This was particularly noticeable in works by Gomes
Antônio Carlos Gomes
Antônio Carlos Gomes was the first New World composer whose work was accepted by Europe.-Life:He was born in Campinas, Brazil, son of Maestro Manuel José Gomes and Fabiana Maria Jaguari Cardoso....

 (Fosca
Fosca (opera)
Fosca is an opera seria in four acts by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Gomes to an Italian language libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni based on Luigi Capranica's 1869 novel La festa delle Marie.- Performance history :...

 (1873) and Salvator Rosa
Salvator Rosa
Salvator Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter, poet and printmaker, active in Naples, Rome and Florence. As a painter, he is best known as an "unorthodox and extravagant" and a "perpetual rebel" proto-Romantic.-Early life:...

 (1874)); Marchetti
Filippo Marchetti
Filippo Marchetti was an Italian opera composer. After studying in Naples, his first opera was "successfully premiered" in Turin in 1856...

 (especially Gustavo Wasa (1875)); Ponchielli: (I Lituani
I Lituani
I Lituani is an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by Amilcare Ponchielli to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on the historical poem Konrad Wallenrod written by Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz...

 (1874) and La Gioconda (Milan, 1876, revised 1880)); and Lauro Rossi
Lauro Rossi
Lauro Rossi , was an Italian composer, particularly of operas. There is no known connection with Luigi Rossi .Rossi studied in Naples and produced his first opera there...

 (La Contessa di Mons (Turin,1874)).

Other operas on this scale continued to be composed by Italian composers during the 1880s and even 1890s, but with less frequency; examples being Marchetti's Don Giovanni d'Austria (1880) and Ponchielli's Il Figluol Prodigo (also 1880).

Germany


French grand operas were regularly staged by German opera houses; an early article by Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 depicts German opera managers hurrying to Paris to try to identify the next hit. The Dresden performances of Le prophète
Le prophète
Le prophète is an opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French-language libretto was by Eugène Scribe.-Performance history:...

 (in German) in 1850 were the occasion for a series of articles by Wagner's disciple, Theodor Uhlig
Theodor Uhlig
Theodor Uhlig was a German viola-player, composer and music critic.-Uhlig and Wagner:...

, condemning Meyerbeer's style and crudely attributing his alleged aesthetic failure to his Jewish origins, inspiring Wagner to write his anti-Jewish diatribe Das Judenthum in der Musik
Das Judenthum in der Musik
Das Judenthum in der Musik is an essay by Richard Wagner, attacking Jews in general and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular, which was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of Leipzig in...

 ("Jewishness in Music").

Meyerbeer himself was German by birth, but directed nearly all his mature efforts to success in Paris. Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

's Rienzi
Rienzi
Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen is an early opera by Richard Wagner in five acts, with the libretto written by the composer after Bulwer-Lytton's novel of the same name . The title is commonly shortened to Rienzi...

, the composer's first success (produced Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, 1842) is totally Meyerbeerean in style. Wagner was at that time a sincere admirer of the older composer, who assisted him in arranging performances of Rienzi and Der fliegende Holländer
The Flying Dutchman (opera)
Der fliegende Holländer is an opera, with music and libretto by Richard Wagner.Wagner claimed in his 1870 autobiography Mein Leben that he had been inspired to write "The Flying Dutchman" following a stormy sea crossing he made from Riga to London in July and August 1839, but in his 1843...

 in Dresden and Berlin. As described above, Wagner attempted in 1860/1861 to recast Tannhäuser
Tannhäuser (opera)
Tannhäuser is an opera in three acts, music and text by Richard Wagner, based on the two German legends of Tannhäuser and the song contest at Wartburg...

 as a grand opera, and this Paris version, as later adapted for Vienna, is still frequently produced today. Götterdämmerung
Götterdämmerung
is the last in Richard Wagner's cycle of four operas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen...

, as noted by George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, shows clear traces of some return by Wagner to the grand opera tradition, and a case could also be argued for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is an opera in three acts, written and composed by Richard Wagner. It is among the longest operas still commonly performed today, usually taking around four and a half hours. It was first performed at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater in Munich, on June 21,...

.

Meyerbeer's only mature German opera, Ein Feldlager in Schlesien
Ein Feldlager in Schlesien
Ein Feldlager in Schlesien is a Singspiel in three acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer with a German-language libretto by Ludwig Rellstab after Eugène Scribe's Le champ de Silésie. It was first performed at the Hofoper, Berlin, on 7 December 1844; a version with a revised libretto by Charlotte...

 is in effect a Singspiel
Singspiel
A Singspiel is a form of German-language music drama, now regarded as a genre of opera...

, although act 2 has some of the characteristics of grand opera, with a brief ballet and an elaborate march. The opera was eventually transformed by the composer to L'étoile du nord
L'étoile du nord
L'étoile du nord is an opéra comique in three acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French-language libretto was by Eugène Scribe....

.

In many German-language houses, especially in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, where Eduard Hanslick
Eduard Hanslick
Eduard Hanslick was a Bohemian-Austrian music critic.-Biography:Hanslick was born in Prague, the son of Joseph Adolph Hanslick, a bibliographer and music teacher from a German-speaking family, and one of his piano pupils, the daughter of a Jewish merchant from Vienna...

 and later Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic...

 championed Meyerbeer and Halévy respectively, the operas continued to be performed well into the 20th century. The growth of anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

 in Germany, especially after the Nazi Party obtained political power in 1933, spelled the end of the works of these composers on German stages until modern times when some (e.g. "La Juive", "Le prophète" at Vienna) have been revived.