Richard Coeur-de-lion (opera)
Richard Cœur-de-lion (Richard the Lionheart) is an opéra comique, described as a comédie mise en musique, by the Belgian composer André Grétry. The French text was by Michel-Jean Sedaine. The work is generally recognised as Grétry's masterpiece and one of the most important French opéras comiques. It is based on a legend about King Richard I of England's captivity in Austria and his rescue by the troubadour Blondel de Nesle.
It was first performed in three acts by the Comédie-Italienne at the first Salle Favart in Paris on 21 October 1784. It was given in a revised four-act version at Fontainebleau on 25 October 1785. The opera reached the United Kingdom in 1786 and Boston, USA in 1797. It was immensely popular and was still being played in France at the end of the 19th century. Adolphe Adam provided new orchestration for the 1841 revival at the Opéra-Comique and through the following decades reached over 600 performances by that company by 1910.
A translated semi-opera version of Sedaine's work Richard Cœur de lion was written by John Burgoyne with music by Thomas Linley the elder for the Drury Lane Theatre where it was very successful in 1788.
The work and its influence
Richard Cœur-de-lion played an important role in the development of opéra comique in its treatment of a serious, historical subject. It was also one of the first rescue operas. Significantly, one of the chief characters in the most famous rescue opera of all, Beethoven's Fidelio, is called Florestan, though he is the prisoner not the jailor. Grétry attempted to imitate Medieval music in Blondel's song Une fièvre brûlante and his example would be followed by composers of the Romantic era. (Beethoven wrote a set of piano variations on the song, WoO. 72.) He also used the same melody as a recurring theme, a technique developed by later composers of opéra comique such as Méhul and Cherubini. Through them it would influence the German tradition of Weber and Wagner.
Blondel's aria Ô Richard, ô mon roi! ("Oh Richard, oh my king!") became a popular rallying song amongst royalists during the French Revolution and was banned by the republican government. In Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades, Laurette's aria "Je crains de lui parler la nuit" is sung by the Countess, remembering her days in 18th century Paris, just before she is murdered.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, October 21, 1784
(Conductor: - )
|Richard the Lionheart, King of England||tenor||Philippe Cauvy, 'Philippe'|
|Blondel, a squire of Richard||tenor||Jean-Baptiste Guignard, 'Clairval (fr)'|
|Florestan, the governor of the castle of Linz||basse-taille (bass-baritone)||Philippe-Thomas Ménier|
|Williams||basse-taille (bass-baritone)||Pierre-Marie Narbonne|
|A peasant||basse-taille (bass-baritone)|
|Antonio (travesti)||soprano||Rosalie de Saint-Évreux, 'Mlle Rosalie'|
|Marguerite, Countess of Flanders and Artois||soprano||Marie-Thérèse-Théodore Rombocoli-Riggieri, 'Mlle Colombe l'Aînée'|
|Laurette, Williams's daughter||soprano||Louise-Rosalie Lefebvre, 'Madame Dugazon'|
|Béatrix, an attendant of Marguerite||soprano||Angélique Erbennert, 'Mlle Desforges'|
On his way home from the Third Crusade, King Richard has been imprisoned by Leopold, Archduke of Austria. The king's faithful squire Blondel seeks him out disguised as a blind troubadour. He arrives in Linz where he meets the English exile Sir Williams and his daughter Laurette, who tell him of an unknown prisoner in the nearby castle. Laurette is in love with the prison governor, Florestan. Countess Marguerite, who is in love with King Richard, arrives and offers Blondel her help. Blondel goes to the castle where he sings the song Une fièvre brûlante ("A burning fever"). Richard recognises the music and tries to communicate with Blondel, who is seized by the guards, but he is freed when he tells Florestan of an assignation Laurette wants with him the following night. Blondel reveals the truth to Williams and the countess and they plan to free the king. Marguerite holds a party, during which Florestan, who had come to meet Laurette, is held captive. The countess's troops besiege the castle and rescue Richard.
There are two recordings of the three-act version:
- Orchestre de Chambre de la Radio-Télévision Belge, conducted by Edgard Doneux, with Charles Burles, Michel Trempont, Jacqueline Sternotte, Danièle Perriers, Mady Mesplé, Ludovic de San, Monique Bost, Nicole Dukens, Jean van Gorp, Jules Bastin, and Jean Bussard (EMI Classics/Angel Records CD: B000063XQN, recorded 16-26 May 1977);
- Orchestra giovanile Conservatorio "Claudio Monteverdi" di Bolzano, and Coro lirico "Gretry", conducted by Fabio Neri, with Hubert Zingerle, Peter Edelmann, Marinella Pennicchi, Barbara Pichler, Mattia Nicolini, Flavia Bernardi, Kurt Pircher, Silvia Wieser, Ulrike Malsiner, Georg Zingerle, Armin Kolarczyz; Kurt Pircher; Georg Zingerle; Gotthard Bonell; Maria Pia Zanetti; Gabriella Cacciatori; Monica Trettel; Paolo Florio, and Leandro Pegoretti (Nuova Era, 7157/7158; CD digitaler; recoded 6-9 August 1990, at the Haus der Kultur in Bolzano)
- André Grétry: Richard Coeur-de-lion. In: Kaminski, Piotr. Mille et Un Opéras. Fayard, 2003, p537.
- Wolff, Stéphane. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique 1900–1950. André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
- As reported by the 1841 libretto. Full names are drawn from Campardon.
- (French) Philippe (Philippe Cauvy, connu au théâtre sous le nom de), in Pierre Larousse, Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle : français, historique, géographique, mythologique, bibliographique, littéraire, artistique, scientifique, etc., etc., Paris, Administration du Grand Dictionnaire universel, 1874, II, p. 814 (accessible for fre online at Gallica, Bibliothèque Nationale de France).
- Spelt Meunier in the 1841 libretto.
- Sources will refer to this singer stating simply his surname 'Narbonne'. Campardon does not report any first name, either, in his work on the 'comédiens italiens' cited below (article: Narbonne, II, p. 29), whereas the name 'Pierre-Marie' is set forth in his later book on the Académie Royale de Musique, where Narbonne began his career (L'Académie Royale de Musique au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1884, II, p. 193). The name 'Louis' is given instead by Georges de Froidcourt in his collection of Grétry's correspondence (La correspondance générale de Grétry, Bruxelles, Brepols, 1962, p. 145, footnote 8).
- Operamanager.com - page: Richard Coeur de Lion, accessed 27 May 2014
- Amadeus Almanac, accessed 6 November 2008
- Richard Cœur-de-lion by David Charlton, in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
- Booklet notes to the Doneux recording by Michel Parouty
- Article in The Viking Opera Guide ed. Holden (1993)
- The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera ed. Roger Parker (OUP, 1994)
- Campardon, Émile (ed), Les Comédiens du roi de la troupe italienne pendant les deux derniers siècles: documents inédits recueillis aux Archives Nationales, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1880 (accessible for free online at Internet Archive: Volume I (A-L); Volume II (M-Z))