John Osborn, Lynette Tapia, Albrecht Kludzuweit, Marianne Cornetti, Pierre Doyen, Tijl Faveyts, Karel Martin Ludvik; Aalto Theatre Opera Chorus; Essener Philharmoniker/Giuliano Carella
Oehms Classics OC 971 214:09 mins (3 discs)
Premiered after many years of work and many months of rehearsal at the Paris Opéra in 1849, Meyerbeer’s substantial score was one of the most admired works of the mid-19th-century and arguably represents the peak of his achievement; though, as with the rest of his once hugely successful output, it fell from favour following racially motivated attacks by Wagner, on whose bandwagon others joined as the Jewish composer’s vast historical epics simply started to look dated.
It has taken until recent decades for Meyerbeer’s music once again to be looked at regularly and dispassionately. This live performance from Essen (2017) is based on a scholarly edition that attempts to present the score in its very first version, with some sections included that were cut before the first night for reasons of length and have never previously been performed.
Meyerbeer is an uneven composer who tends to think sectionally rather than in larger structures; but the best of Le Prophète is imaginative and powerful, and its subject – the quasi-religious (but effectively political) early 16th-century rising of the Anabaptists against their spiritual and temporal overlords in Germany and the Lowlands – is a fascinating one. Two roles dominate the piece, that of the delusional prophet Jean of Leyden, who comes to believe he is a new Messiah, and that of his intensely loving mother, Fidès; both are delivered with conviction by John Osborn and Marianne Cornetti respectively, while Lynette Tapia offers a decent account of Jean’s discarded fiancée, Berthe. The conductor Giuliano Carella draws spirited music-making from his Essen forces.