100, 85, 70, 40, 15, 6€

Zampa ou la fiancée de marbre

Ferdinand Hérold

December 21 to 26, 2008

100, 85, 70, 40, 15, 6€

OPERA-COMIQUE in three acts by Ferdinand Hérold. Livret by Mélesville
First performed at the Opéra Comique on the 3 may 1831

In 1830 the Revolution of the Trois Glorieuses (the Three Glorious Days) leads to a new regime, the July Monarchy, and enthrones Louis-Philippe as “king of the French”. Berlioz enthusiastically orchestrates La Marseillaise and sings it on the barricades. The Parisians discover Beethoven at the Conservatoire concerts. Victor Hugo has just shaken up the Comédie Française with his Hernani and Nerval has overturned the young lions with his first translation of Goethe’s Faust. While an English troupe reveals Shakespeare to the patrons of the Odéon theater, Rossini and Schiller enlighten subscribers of the Opéra with William Tell’s fate. In Brussels, Auber’s La Muette de Portici brings about the insurrection that leads to Belgium’s independence. The wind of revolution is blowing in all directions. A new generation, that of the children of the Empire, wants to take the lead in a materialistic and resolutely bourgeois society. To upset conventions, strike the imagination, impress the crowds – to live! Such is the impulse that drives French romanticism at its inception.


Social comedy is in full swing in theaters. Lorgnettes and opera glasses are conspicuous. Under the brightly illuminated chandeliers, to enthrall their subscribers, directors invest in golden voices, magnificent stage sets, lighting effects through recently installed gas pipes, choral sections, ballets and crowd artists, and advertising pretty soon.


In the preface to his Cromwell, Victor Hugo enjoins to “skim through the centuries” so as to “revive the past.” In effect, with the advent of the


historical novel, opera houses favor historical themes for their inexhaustible dramatic and ornamental potential. A new vein from Germany and England feeds French romanticism, namely the fantastic, so that drama can display musical and staging boldness. By trying to combine historical and fantastic themes, a clever librettist would take to a medieval subject. As a highly superstitious period, the Middle Ages are very popular in the nineteenth century as evidenced in works by Michelet, Hugo and Viollet-Le-Duc as well as the fashion of neo-Gothic and troubadour styles.


What do we know of those archaic times that preceded the age of order and reason established by Louis XIV? All that which Zampa stages in 1831.


The Romantics are perfectly aware that prior to Enlightenment Europe was dominated by fear: fear of the Devil and the great plagues, of war and armed gangs, of the sea and the night, of the Turks and curse. All these fears join in the Sicilian village where Camille lives. Life and death are intertwined: catechesis and superstition entertain doubts quickened by religious iconography. The fishermen are under the protection of a dead woman killed by a pirate. In case of danger, her statue moves as a warning, thanking them for their hospitality. One day the pirate disembarks: he takes after Faust for his rejection of all morals, Don Juan for his irresistible seductiveness, the Flying Dutchman for his intrusion. He’s damned romantic.


Drawn from Molière’s Dom Juan, this wonderful theme is written by librettist Mélesville. Emile Lubbert, the new director of the Opéra-Comique, has a leaning for a talented and experienced fortyyear old composer, Hérold. Recently set up in comfortable but costly Salle Ventadour, the Opéra-Comique undergoes a critical period. Because of financial hardships, the theater closes several times and the director is changed twice within a year. In addition, the repertoire gets outdated, competition arises from the Boulevard theaters with similar productions, and it lies in she shade of the Opéra. In late 1829 Meyerbeer withdraws Robert le Diable from the Opéra-Comique and gives it to the Opéra which is then directed by… Emile Lubbert! When the latter becomes director of the Opéra-Comique, he constantly endeavors to find such a brilliant theme. He finally chooses Hérold, a composer of comic operas and choral director at the Opéra in private. For the first time, the perviousness between the two institutions advantages the Opéra-Comique as Zampa is ready a few months before Robert le Diable.


Zampa has its premiere on May 3, 1831 at Salle Ventadour. The staging is handled by manager Solomé, purposely lured away from the Comédie Française . Solomé designs Gothic sets and costumes, a beautiful articulated statue of fake white marble which he cashes in on beyond price at reprises in other theaters since, according to him, “the whole play lies in that statue.” Finally, the numerous lighting and smoke effects are operated by a pyrotechnist and a light maintenance man to depict the volcano – a symbol of romanticism par excellence (“Your head seems to be an evererupting volcano,” wrote Rouget de Lisle to Berlioz).


It is an immediate success with the outstanding medley overture. Musically, “this score meets all the requirements today in Paris for a true comic opera” (Berlioz) and reflects great credit to the talented artists of the troupe, especially Madame Casimir as Camille and majestic Cholet as Zampa.


Zampa runs for fifty-six nights and was to be performed almost seven hundred times till the end of the century. Numerous singers were eager to add the title role to their repertoires, gratifying both tenors who could baritone and baritones singing as tenors. The work was soon performed abroad: Brussels and Vienna by 1832, London, Naples, Turin and Moscow in 1834, then Germany. During his stay in Vienna in the summer of 1832, Richard Wagner was exasperated: “Anywhere I went, I could hear Zampa and Strauss’ potpourris on Zampa! These two things –and especially at that time– were an abhorrence to me.


An “abhorrence” for a few elitists, Zampa was moving and efficient, romantic and popular. In this it accomplished the mission assigned to drama by Victor Hugo: to be a landmark for its time.

William Christie / Jonathan Cohen*, Jérôme Deschamps, Macha Makeïeff

With  Richard Troxell, Colin Lee, Jaël Azzaretti, Léonard Pezzino, Doris Lamprecht, Vincent Ordonneau
Comédiens, Luc Tremblais, Laurent Delvert

Choir et orchestra, Les Arts Florissants

See all the cast

Sunday, December 21, 2008 - 4:00pm
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - 8:00pm
Friday, December 26, 2008 - 8:00pm
Salle Favart
100, 85, 70, 40, 15, 6€


William Christie
Musical Direction
William Christie
Musical Direction musicale and musical Assistant
Jonathan Cohen
Biographie Jérôme Deschamps © Simon Wallon
Stage direction
Jérôme Deschamps
Stage direction; Scenery and costumes
Macha Makeïeff
Dominique Bruguière
Stage Assistant
Pierre-Emmanuel Rousseau
Scenery Assistant
Christophe Barthès de Ruyter
Costumes Assistant
Claudine Crauland
Lighting Assistant
François Thouret
Sylvie Châtillon
Make up and Hairdresser
Laure Talazac
Richard Troxell
Colin Lee
Jaël Azzaretti
Léonard Pezzino
Doris Lamprecht
Vincent Ordonneau

Actors, Luc Tremblais, Laurent Delvert

Choir and orchestra, Les Arts Florissants

Production, Opéra Comique
Coproduction, Théâtre de Caen, 9 et 11 janvier 2009


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