Returning to France
We now come to the point where we need to acknowledge that the world was experiencing a French renaissance at this same time of Italian prominence; Charles Francois Gounod (1818-1893), a Parisian, gave us Faust (1859) and Romeo et Juliette (1867).
From Romeo et Juliette, we have the tour de force, “Ah! Je veux vivre” performed by soprano, Joan Sutherland.
And from Faust, we have “Marthe! Dieu soit loue! C’est vous!” (Soldiers’ Chorus).
Georges Bizet (1838-1875) wrote his magnificent Carmen (1875), which Oscar Hammerstein II adapted into Carmen Jones (1954). Bizet also gifted us with Les Pecheurs de perles (1863). One of the most moving duets from that opera (or any opera) is “C’est toi…Au fond du temple saint.”
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), who created a number of light operas, also authored Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1881), produced for the first time the year after his death. Listen to the duet “Belle Nuit, O Nuit D’Amour (Barcarolle)” as it gently unfolds its petals:
Leo Delibes (1836-1891) wrote his grand Lakme (1883), in which he gave us the fragile but exquisite duet “Viens, Mallika…Dome epais (Flower Duet):”
Jules Massenet (1842-1912) came next with his operas Manon (1882), Werther (1892) and Thais (1894). From Werther, we have the lovely “Pourquoi me reveiller.”
Manon was presented at the New York Academy of music in 1885 in an Italian version; Thais was brought to Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera House New York in 1907, with American Mary Garden as the lead soprano. We should insert a note with regard to Garden. She performed any number of roles in France and the United States, notably becoming the director of the Chicago Opera Association. She is also notable for two other accomplishments: she starred in Victor Herbert’s opera Natoma; and famously stated in her autobiography that, in her opinion, native American opera of the future will probably resemble South Pacific and The King and I.
Finally, before we leave the French composers, let’s take a look at Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) and his delightful Samson et Dalila (1877). From this opera came the delicate aria for a mezzo-soprano. We have included the mezzo-soprano, Marilyn Horne, singing “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix:”