Although they are well hidden, Giacomo Meyerbeer did include Jewish musical and literary references in his three great operas, Les Huguenots, Vasco da Gama (incorrectly called L'Africaine), and Le Prophète. His first opera, Jephthas Gelüdbe, was based on Jewish themes. This essay looks at these Jewish elements and shows they stand in the Jewish tradition going back to biblical times of having two meanings (one for the general public, one for those possessing elite knowledge). The essay's conclusion attempts to explain why Meyerbeer may have been reticent to express Jewish themes in music as opposed to the other major French operatic Jewish composer of his time, Jacques Fromental Halévy. In any case, knowledge of these elements can counter interpretations of Meyerbeer as a defender of imperialism and a facile composer unconcerned with profound ideas. This is only an initial survey, based on the Jewish themes and ideas I could discover. There are probably other examples, but only those with a thorough knowledge of nineteenth-century Jewish musical culture who wish to explore his works will be able to discover them.


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pp. 43-59
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