Giacomo Meyerbeer

Born 5 September 1791. Died 2 May 1864.
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Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Giacomo Meyerbeer with Robert Letellier

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Biography

Giacomo Meyerbeer (born Jacob Liebmann Beer; 5 September 1791 – 2 May 1864) was a German opera composer of Jewish birth who has been described as perhaps the most successful stage composer of the nineteenth century. With his 1831 opera Robert le diable and its successors, he gave the genre of grand opera 'decisive character'. Meyerbeer's grand opera style was achieved by his merging of German orchestra style with Italian vocal tradition. These were employed in the context of sensational and melodramatic libretti created by Eugène Scribe and were enhanced by the up-to-date theatre technology of the Paris Opéra. They set a standard which helped to maintain Paris as the opera capital of the nineteenth century.

Born to a very wealthy Berlin family, Meyerbeer began his musical career as a pianist but soon decided to devote himself to opera, spending several years in Italy studying and composing. His 1824 opera Il crociato in Egitto was the first to bring him Europe-wide reputation, but it was Robert le diable (1831) which raised his status to great celebrity. His public career from 1831 until his death, during which he remained throughout a dominating figure in the world of opera, was summarized by his contemporary Hector Berlioz, who claimed that he 'has not only the luck to be talented, but the talent to be lucky.' He was at his peak with his operas Les Huguenots (1836) and Le prophète (1849); his last opera (L'Africaine) was performed posthumously. His operas made him the most frequently performed composer at the world's leading opera houses in the nineteenth century.

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