Adolphe Adam is not a light music composer, but he does have a lightness of style. The mysterious woodwind chords that set the scene for Act II of Giselle hint at another world rather than threaten terror. And while the harp solo that accompanies the Queen of the Wilis gliding across the stage en pointe is a Romantic trope, Adam lets the simplest of melodies float to the surface.
Adam’s unfussy instrumentation is at the service of the drama. Le Corsaire begins with rolling timpani and swashbuckling fanfares before the first melody, which elegantly moves through the orchestra, permitting each section to display its skills.
Adam is a master of orchestration. The hunting horns that introduce Chapelou’s fiendish aria ‘Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire’ tell us we are chasing something special vocally. And they and the chorus are there to sign off that formidable top D.
If Adam has an innate sense of drama in his ballets and operas, he also has an instinct for rhythm. The overtures he composed for the theatre tease our expectations – listen to conductor Richard Bonynge’s handsome account of the overture to Adam’s two-act ballet Le diable à quatre.
We named Adolphe Adam one of the greatest ballet composers ever
Illustration by Matt Herring