About this Recording
8.660305 - GRETRY, A.-E.-M.: Magnifique (Le) [Opera] (Gonzalez Toro, Calleo, Krull, Thompson, Sulayman, Williams, Scarlata, Opera Lafayette Orchestra, Brown)

André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry (1741–1813) and Michel-Jean Sedaine (1719–1797)
Le Magnifique


Jean-Michel Sedaine (1719–1797)

Born in Paris on 2nd June 1719, Jean-Michel Sedaine was the first of seven children born to Jean-Pierre Sedaine, a stone-mason and architect, and Marie-Jeanne Gourdain. Following in his father’s footsteps, Jean-Michel progressed from journeyman stone-mason to foreman and, finally, assistant architect. In his leisure time he wrote poetry, publishing his first album in 1752. It was a success and a second edition was published in 1760. He soon turned to writing for the stage. His first opéra-comique was Le Diable à quatre (1758) after the ballad opera by Charles Coffey entitled The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metamorphos’d. He then produced three works to music by Philidor: Blaise le savetier (Blaise the cobbler), 1759; Le Jardinier et son seigneur (The Gardener and his Lord and Master), 1761; and L’Huître et les plaideurs (The Oyster and the Litigants), 1759/61, before meeting Monsigny, with whom he collaborated on several very successful opéras-comiques. Later, when Monsigny’s worked more slowly because of failing eyesight, Sedaine collaborated with Edgidio Duni (Les Sabots, 1768; and Thémire, 1770), with Philidor one last time on Les Femmes vengées (1775) and with Grétry (Le Magnifique, 1773; Richard Coeur-de-Lion, 1785; Le Comte d’Albert, 1786; Raoul Barbe-Bleue, 1789; and Guillaume Tell, 1791). Sedaine also had a successful career in the theatre with plays such as Le Philosophe sans le savoir, (1765), and La Gageure imprévue, (1768). Ruined by the Revolution, he died in Paris on 17th May 1797, leaving his wife and children penniless.

André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry (1741–1813)

André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, the second of six children born to a professional violinist at the Collegiate Church of St Denis in Liège on 8th February 1741, showed precocious talent as a composer under the tutelage of HJ Renkin and Henri Moreau. A Mass and six symphonies earned him a fellowship from the Darchis Foundation to go on to complete his studies in Rome under Giovanni Casali. His years in Rome not only brought six string quartets Op. 3, but also, and more importantly, directed him towards opera and the theatre with a commission to compose an intermezzo La vendemmiatrice (1765). From Rome he travelled to Geneva where he was befriended by Voltaire, and composed his first opéra-comique, Isabelle et Gertrude (1766). The following year he settled in Paris, where he met the writer Jean François Marmontel. With him he collaborated on a series of very successful opéras-comiques: Le Huron (1768), Lucile (1769), L’Amitié à l’épreuve (1770), L’Ami de la maison (1771), and Zémire et Azor (1771), the last of these based on the story of Beauty and the Beast). Grétry did not write exclusively to librettos of Marmontel, however, but also scored successes on texts by Anseaume, Le Tableau parlant (1769); by Fenouillot de Falbaire, Les Deux avares (1770) and by Sedaine, Le Magnifique (1773). In fact, much to Marmontel’s chagrin, after composing music for their heroic-ballet, Céphale et Procris, written for the Paris Opéra in 1773, Grétry essentially put an end to their collaboration. He continued to produce successful opéras-comiques such as L’Amant jaloux (1778), Les Evénements imprévus (1779), L’Epreuve villageoise (1784), and Richard Coeur de Lion (1784) arguably his greatest success. At the Opéra he was similarly successful with La Caravane du Caire (1783) and Panurge dans l’ile des lanternes (1785). A number of mediocre works on patriotic/republican subjects appeared during the Revolution. His last two successes after the Revolution were Lisbeth (1797) and Elisca (1799). In his last years he wrote memoirs, Mémoires, ou Essai sur la musique (1789, expanded 1797), and essays: De la vérité (1801) and Réflexions d’un solitaire, (published posthumously).

Le Magnifique

In his Mémoires, ou Essai sur la musique (1797), Grétry states “…I wished to set to music a poem by Mr Sedaine, who seemed to me to be the best person either for the creation of characters, or for the so rare ability to bring situations in such a manner as to produce new effects and yet remain true to nature. Le Magnifique was offered to me by Madame de Lalive d’Epinay, the intimate friend of JJ Rousseau…”

Indeed Madame d’Epinay held a salon where the intellectual and literary elite of eighteenth-century Paris convened. Both major librettists of Grétry, Marmontel and Sedaine, frequented her salon along with Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, Montesquieu and the baron Melchior Grimm, among others. So it is not surprising that the chosen subject for the libretto of Le Magnifique had a well-established literary history going back to Boccaccio’s 1353 Decameron (Third day, fifth tale). La Fontaine wrote a tale in verse on the same subject (1675). Furthermore, Antoine Houdar de La Motte produced a two-act comedy, Le Magnifique, in 1731 which had been performed at court as recently as 1769. Sedaine, however, in the preface of his libretto, denies having seen or read La Motte’s comedy when writing the libretto of Le Magnifique and acknowledges having been inspired by La Fontaine’s tale. Indeed, Sedaine had previously mined the same source for the librettos of On ne s’avise jamais de tout (Monsigny, 1761), and Le Faucon (Monsigny, 1771) and had been inspired by La Fontaine’s fable for the libretto of L’Huître et les plaideurs (Philidor, 1759). If Grétry wished to set a poem by Sedaine to music, Sedaine admitted to wanting to work with Grétry because Monsigny, his preferred composer to this date, was in possession of two librettos of Sedaine but was in no hurry to set them to music.

This first collaboration between Sedaine and Grétry proved very fruitful, and Grétry paid homage to Sedaine in his Mémoires: “If Sedaine is not the poet who fashions verses to be sung with the greatest care, the situations that he brings about…are so compelling that they force the musician to endeavor to convey them. He almost always finds the right word and dispenses himself with poetical embellishments. He forces the musician to find new forms to illustrate his original characters.”

In Le Magnifique Sedaine presents several compelling situations: the release of prisoners, a theme already illustrated in Sedaine’s Le Déserteur, to which he will often return (Richard Coeur-de-Lion [1784], Le Comte d’Albert [1786], Raoul Barbe-bleue [1789]) and which will later inspire Beethoven’s Fidelio; the confrontation of the innocence of a young girl with the cruel realities of the world; and, most dramatically, the love declaration and the dropping of the rose. This scene challenged Grétry to new expressive means and was the chief attraction to Sedaine’s libretto. This scene was so successful that people flocked to the theatre to hear Le Magnifique (sung by Clairval) sing his love to Clémentine (Mme Laruette) and watch her drop the rose. Grétry recounts that a lady attending the performance and “impatient to see the rose drop from the hands of modesty, opened her charming fingers and dropped her fan on the stage. She was as disconcerted by her action, as was Clémentine a moment later.”

As beautiful and novel as this scene is, it is not the only noteworthy piece of the score. The overture is one of the earliest examples of programmatic music. The overture portrays the movements and clamours accompanying a procession of captives and is so intimately linked to the beginning of the action that it is necessary for the scene’s comprehension. It also has the particularity of juxtaposing music of different styles (march and plain-song) to illustrate the spectacle of different processions (captives, soldiers, priests) occurring simultaneously. This device would be used later by Mozart at the end of Act I of Don Giovanni when three orchestras play, one a minuet, the second a contredanse and the third an allemande, all at the same time. The rondeau of Clémentine’s “Pourquoi donc ce Magnifique” illustrates very aptly, by the return of the rondeau theme, the obsession of Clémentine with Le Magnifique whom she cannot drive out of her mind. There are contrasting scenes such as the comic air of Alix’s “Ô ciel, quel air de courroux”, followed by the sentimentality of Clémentine’s “Jour heureux!” and the multi-sectional finale of Act III, inspired by Italian opera buffa, which is one of the earliest examples in French opéra-comique. To better link the scenes musically, Grétry composed extended preludes or postludes to his airs or duos to accompany the pantomime described in the libretto. For instance, during the ritornello of the duo between Aldobrandin and Clémentine’s “Ma chère enfant”, the libretto states that “during the ritornello of the following duo, Aldobrandin goes to close the door; Clémentine watches him with some apprehension” while after the duo of Clémentine and Alix in “Je ne sais pourquoi je pleure”, Sedaine directs that “during the final ritornello, Alix and Clémentine are supposed to hear the steps of people approaching; they pretend to be concentrated on their work: Clémentine is to arrange a flower corsage and attach it to herself, leaving behind a single rose which she keeps in her hand”. This is the rose she will drop in the next scene in response to Le Magnifique’s declaration of love. Madame Laruette was so eloquent in the rôle of Clémentine that she inspired the following poem by Frémicourt, published in Le Mercure de France:

Que ton jeu toujours vrai sait rendre intéressant
Le moment où tes doigts laissent tomber la rose !
Oui, tu triomphes en cédant.
En vain sur ton silence un tuteur se repose :
Que Laruette parle, ou qu’elle ait la bouche close,
Le sentiment par elle est sûr d’être vainqueur ;
Elle le peint d’après son coeur.

[How your acting knows how to make interesting
The moment when your fingers drop the rose!
Indeed, you triumph by yielding.
In vain a tutor rests assured by your silence,
Whether Laruette speaks, or has her mouth closed,
Feelings are sure to be victorious;
She paints them after her own heart.]

Nizam Peter Kettaneh


During the overture [1], a procession of captives is passing behind the house of Horace, a wealthy merchant of Florence, shipwrecked nine years earlier and taken by pirates who sold him into slavery along with his servant Laurence. Clémentine, his daughter, and Alix, Clémentine’s servant, who is also her confidante and the wife of Laurence, are watching the procession from the windows of their house. Suddenly, Alix recognizes her own husband, Laurence, among the captives (Duo: “C’est lui, c’est lui, c’est lui ![5]). Alix wants to go out to see the captives, suggesting that perhaps Horace is also among them. She tells Clémentine that these captives have just been bought out of slavery by Octave and mentions that Aldobrandin, Clémentine’s tutor, would like to marry her. Clémentine wonders why her heart is more moved by the mention of Octave’s name than by all the care her tutor has shown her (Scene: “Pourquoi donc ce Magnifique[6]). Aldobrandin comes in, declares his love to Clémentine and proposes to marry her. Clémentine refuses claiming to be too young (Duo: “Ma chère enfant[7]). In Alix’s absence, Aldobrandin sends Clémentine to her room and recommends that she think it over and give him her answer which he trusts will be positive. Fabio, a schemer at Aldobrandin’s service, comes in to report the result of his negotiations with Le Magnifique to purchase his best racing horse for Aldobrandin. Le Magnifique is willing to give it to Aldobrandin in exchange for permission to talk to Clémentine without being overheard for a quarter of an hour. Aldobrandin is puzzled by the request and fears there may be more to it. While he thinks it over, Fabio praises the horse (Ariette: “Ah, c’est un superbe cheval ![8]). But Le Magnifique comes in person to clinch the deal (Trio: “Vous m’étonnez, vous badinez[9]). They all leave to have a look at this exceptional horse.

While they are out, Alix returns with Laurence. She is overjoyed at his return and that of their master, Horace. While she goes out to fetch some food and wine for Laurence, he sings his distaste of sea voyages and his longing to stay by his wife’s side (Ariette: “Ah ! si jamais je cours les mers[10]). Alix returns with Clémentine, and Laurence recounts their adventures: how Le Magnifique saved them all but ordered them not to spread the news of their return to anyone, least of all to Aldobrandin. They agree to meet again while Aldobrandin attends the races, and Laurence leaves. Alix tells Clémentine that now that her Father is back, he will surely give his blessing to her marriage with Aldobrandin. Much to Alix’s surprise, Clémentine confesses not to love Aldobrandin and begins to weep. Alix asks her why she is weeping but Clémentine cannot say why she is so depressed (Duo: “Je ne sais pourquoi je pleure[11]). Aldobrandin returns with Le Magnifique whom he sends to his study, while he prepares Clémentine for the visit from Le Magnifique. Aldobrandin tells her the deal he has accepted in order to obtain Le Magnifique’s horse. He warns Clémentine that Le Magnifique will flatter her and court her and asks her not to say a word in reply to his entreaties. Clémentine agrees. Aldobrandin goes to call Le Magnifique while Clémentine sings of her pleasure in having the man she secretly loves speak to her and her fear of hurting him by her enforced silence (Scene: “Quelle contrainte ![12]).

Aldobrandin returns with Le Magnifique and places him with Clémentine at one end of the stage while he and Fabio observe from the other end of the stage, out of their hearing. Le Magnifique declares his love to Clémentine who reluctantly must remain silent. But Le Magnifique understands the ruse Aldobrandin has played on him and, noticing a rose held in Clémentine’s hand, asks her to drop the rose if she agrees to marry him. Clémentine drops the rose. While Le Magnifique ironically reproaches Aldobrandin for his despicable ruse, Aldobrandin and Fabio mock him. Le Magnifique picks up the rose and leaves.

Back in her room, Clémentine reproaches herself for having replied to Le Magnifique’s love declaration. She fears what he might think of her (Scene: “Ah ! que je me sens coupable ![15]). Laurence arrives and says that Le Magnifique and Clémentine’s father are on their way. Clémentine leaves the room dreamily while Laurence and Alix sing of their joy at being reunited (Duo: “Te voilà donc[16]). Fabio drops in to tell Alix that Aldobrandin has called for the notary, but when he sees Laurence, he retreats hastily with Laurence running after him. Alix, surprised by Laurence’s sudden departure, attributes it to his jealousy (Ariette: “O ciel ! Quel air de couroux ![17]). While Alix goes out to look for her husband, Clementine sings of her joy at being soon reunited with her father and of her hope that he will consent to her marriage with Le Magnifique (Ariette: “Jour heureux ![18]). Alix, who has not found her husband, returns and tells Clémentine that her father is approaching with Le Magnifique. She advises Clémentine to go to her room and wait to be called. Le Magnifique and Horace enter and are greeted by Alix. Horace sends for Clémentine who greets her father effusively. Horace assures Clémentine that they are for ever reunited again in mutual happiness. Aldobrandin arrives and wants to welcome Horace in an embrace, but Horace stops him and asks Aldobrandin why he has not replied to the numerous letters Horace wrote him during his nine years of captivity. Aldobrandin claims to have received none and tells Horace that all the care he has taken of Clémentine and of Horace’s wealth is proof of his dedication. A noise is heard and Laurence enters dragging in Fabio by the collar (Finale: “Ne me bats pas[19]). Laurence forces Fabio to confess that following Aldobrandin’s instructions, he sold Horace and Laurence in Tunis to a merchant from Crete on his way to Asia. Aldobrandin tells Fabio to keep quiet, and asks the others not to believe such a scoundrel. He threatens Fabio, who replies that he is not afraid of him, while all express their indignation at such a base action. Aldobrandin is dismissed and left to his own remorse, while Horace gives the hand of Clémentine to Le Magnifique. They all sing of their joy at being reunited as a big family, except for Fabio who sings that he is fleeing from this place.

Nizam Peter Kettaneh

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