André-Ernst-Modeste Grétry – Raoul Barbe-Bleue, opera
(b. Liége (Belgium), February 11, 1741 – d. Montmorency near Paris, September 24, 1813)
André–Ernest–Modeste Grétry was a composer of around 70 opéras–comiques, who was very often performed in his day and who, like many pioneers of new ideas, „was overshadowed for posterity by those for whom he paved the way.”1
As a child Grétry sang in a choir, received harpsichord and composition lessons, perfected his musical skills from 1760 to about 1766 in Rome, then went to Geneva, where he worked as a music and composition teacher. In 1767, on the advice of the philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Voltaire (1694–1778), Grétry moved to Paris, where he celebrated great successes with his comic operas. Opéra-comique refers to folk pieces from the vaudeville genre and opera parodies with an alternation of spoken dialogues and sung numbers. Grétry became the favorite composer of the French Queen Marie Antoinette (1755–1793), and he enjoyed great fame.
The topic of “Bluebeard” originated from the tale „La Barbe bleüe“, taken from the fairy tale collection „Contes de ma mére ö’oye. Histoires ou Contes du temps passé, avec des moralités“, („Stories or tales from ancient times“), written in 1697 by the French author Charles Perrault (1628–1703). Many other composers and librettists also devoted themselves to this subject. The operas „Blue Beard“ by C.J. Baumgarten (London, 1792), „Raoul the Bluebeard“ by Anton Fischer (Vienna, 1807), „Bluebeard“ by Julius Rietz (Düsseldorf, approx. 1835), „La chateau de Barbe – Bleue“ by Armand Limnander (Paris 1851) , the operetta „Bluebeard“ by Jacques Offenbach (Paris, 1866) and the music to Tieck’s fairy tale „Bluebeard“ by W. Taubert (Berlin 1845).2 Obviously Grétry dedicated himself to a much-used subject.
Grétry’s „Bluebeard“ opera was written in 1789 based on a libretto by the French stage poet Michael – Jean Sedaine (1719–1797), whose texts were set as well to music by the composers François–André Danican Philidor (1726–1795) and Pierre–Alexandre Monsigny (1729-1817). Grétry was delighted that he had the opportunity to work with a libretto by Sedaine, as this author „seemed exemplary to him, be it in terms of his invention of characters, or in terms of the rare advantage of creating new situations in a way that they trigger surprising effects and yet always remain natural.“3 Sedaine found his inspiration for the opera in the legend on knight Bluebeard with the title „La Barbe bleüe“ by the poet Perrault. The composer himself described how he approached working with the libretto: „I read the words that I want to paint in tones, I read them over and over, twenty times. It often takes me several days to get my mind going. I’m finally losing my appetite, my eyes are starting to burn, my imagination flares up – and then I’ll be writing an opera in three or four weeks.“4 In „Raoul Barbe-bleue“, Grétry saw it as his task to „strengthen the musical color, ie. to make the harmony and orchestral accompaniment fuller; but I […] did not deviate from my system in anything. My main intention was aimed at the theatrical effect, at drawing the whole and at singing. And the orchestra, although now more powerful, served merely for coloration.”5 He dedicated the work to Godefroid de Villeraneuse. …
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