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  • The Diaries of Giacomo Meyerbeer: The Last Years 1857–1864
  • Tom Kaufman (bio)
The Diaries of Giacomo Meyerbeer: The Last Years 1857–1864 Translated, edited and annotated by Robert Ignatius LetellierMadison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004718 pages, $110.00

Like the first three volumes of this title, volume 4 consists primarily of the entries in Meyerbeer's diaries, with the translator's invaluable commentaries in the form of notes.1 Volume 4 carries the reader from 1857 through January 1864, at which time the diary breaks off due to the composer's deteriorating health. Other sections include a list of Meyerbeer's operas performed since 1945 and a glossary of works, which are cross-indexed with dates on which they are mentioned in the diary. These include works by other composers as well as those by Meyerbeer. There is also a comprehensive bibliography.

As was the case with the first three volumes, individual entries vary enormously. Some may merely mention what Meyerbeer worked on that day, whom he met or dined with, whom he received letters from or wrote letters to, and where he traveled. Others may list what opera he saw, perhaps with a few brief comments on the work, the performance, the singers, or other circumstances.

One such entry that I found rather enjoyable occurs on 25 July 1862. While attending a performance of Faust in Wiesbaden, he met one of his old acquaintances from Paris:

During the interval Marie Escudier, editor of La France Musicale, who for the past twenty-four years has attacked and persecuted me in the most brutal way, pressed my hand, behaved as if it gave him endless pleasure to see me again, indeed as if we were the best of friends, and said that he and his wife intend to visit me in Schwalbach. He has done this, no doubt, because he has married the pianist Rosa Kastner, and believes that I can be of use to her concert career in Germany. A journalist thinks that he is allowed to treat an author in any way he pleases.

(P. 267)

But the most interesting entries pertain to the world premiere of Dinorah and major local premieres of this and earlier Meyerbeer operas, as well as [End Page 189] to singers and conductors. Coverage of contemporary operas by other composers is generally disappointing, since Meyerbeer apparently missed the premieres of several significant operas, such as Faust at the Théâtre Lyrique. However, there is an interesting discussion of the Paris reaction to Wagner's Tannhäuser in 1861.

In my earlier review I referred to an entry on Tannhäuser dated 29 April 1855, in which Meyerbeer complains of a dearth of melody and of formlessness, though finding many other things to praise. He seems to have changed his mind slightly in the ensuing years, since he is considerably more positive in commenting on the 1861 Paris premiere of Wagner's revision of Tannhäuser, which took place while Meyerbeer was in Berlin:

Today the news arrived of the first Paris performance of Tannhäuser, which apparently has been a full-scale fiasco. The public laughed outright at several passages (regarding both text and music), and on occasion even booed. Princess Metternich and Countess Seebach, to whose protection people ascribed the performance of the work, became the butt of such ridicule by the public that they left the theater after act 2. Such an unusual demonstration of dissatisfaction with a work that, in any case, is so admirable and talented would appear to be the result of a cabal, and not a genuine popular verdict. In my opinion, it will only stand the work in good stead at later performances.

(P. 202)

This entry makes it plain that whenever Meyerbeer comments on an opera by one of his contemporaries, he does not have an axe to grind. He reviews the work without permitting his views on the composer to influence him. This quality, when combined with his tremendous knowledge of music and the requirements of the operatic stage, makes his observations especially valuable. This is why I consider the entry about Gounod's La reine de Saba in Darmstadt...


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