Opera Daily 🎶 — Louise
This week's Opera Daily features “Depuis le jour,” a soprano aria from the French opera Louise
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Opera is filled with one-hit wonders.
The rest of the French opera Louise by Gustave Charpentier is not nearly as good as the aria we are listening to today which is a staple in almost every soprano's repertoire.
The story is simple.
The title character, Louise, is the daughter of a working-class family. She’s in love with Julien— a poet, and the two run away together against her family’s wishes. Act 3 opens with Louise singing “Depuis le jour” (“Since the day”). In this aria, Louise (soprano) describes how her life has changed since living with Julien (tenor) and how her life grows better every day when she is with him.
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen): “Depuis le jour,” a soprano aria from Act 3 of the French opera Louise by Gustave Charpentier. Renée Fleming is singing here, from a 2002 Paris recital. She gives us an almost dream-like interpretation of this piece. It’s lush, intense, and beautiful.
🎧 Listen here (6 minute listen): Here’s another version of a studio recording with Montserrat Caballé singing the aria. You will notice that the pace is much slower, but I don’t mind it. Impeccable phrasing 🤌 What do you think?
Since the day I gave myself, my fate seems all in flower. I seem to be dreaming beneath a fairy sky, my soul still enraptured by that very first kiss! What a wonderful life! Oh! I am so happy! Love spreads its wings over me! In the garden of my heart a new joy sings! Everything resonates, everything rejoices in my triumph! About me is all smiles, light and happiness! And I tremble deliciously at the delightful memory of the first day of love! What a glorious life! Oh, how happy I am! Too happy!... And I tremble deliciously at the delightful memory of the first day of love!
Louise was inspired by Charpentier's own experiences growing up in a working-class family in Montmartre, Paris, so much that many of Charpentier's friends and colleagues suggested that the libretto was too realistic, as the memories and observations of the struggles and aspirations of the people around him to create the characters and story of Louise hit too close to home for many. The composer made several revisions to the text before finally completing the music in 1896.
In the final act, Louise’s mother takes her home to see her father, who is very ill. Despite Julien's reservations, Louise agrees to go with her mother, promising to return to Julien soon. However, when she arrives home, her father is bitter and resentful towards her, accusing her of being ungrateful. The city of Paris calls to her, and she eventually decides to leave her parents’ home and return to Julien. The opera ends with Louise standing alone, triumphant and free, as the city celebrates with fireworks and music. The final scene is a powerful expression of Louise's determination to live life on her own terms, and it is a poignant and bittersweet conclusion to the story of a young woman's struggle to find her place in the world.
The character of Louise is similar to that of Puccini’s Mimì, another young woman trying to survive and find her way in this world.
Louise premiered in Paris at the Opéra-Comique on February 2, 1900. In addition to being the composer, Charpentier also wrote the libretto for Louise. Charpentier’s next (semi) success was the opera Julien in 1913, essentially a sequel to Louise.
In 1902, Charpentier founded a music school, the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson, which offered free musical instruction to Paris' many "midinettes" - the women popularized in his Louise.
While Louise is an opera, Charpentier liked to call it a “musical romance.” When asked why, he said: “Because in a romance, there are two entirely distinct sides, the drama and the description, and in my Louise, I wish to treat these different sides. I have a descriptive part, composed of decoration, scenic surroundings, and a musical atmosphere in which my characters move; then, I have the purely dramatic part devoted wholly to the action. This is, therefore, a truly musical romance.”
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
Please have a wonderful week,
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili singing Rimsky-Korsakov.
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LOUISE was heard at NYC Opera with Carol Neblett and Kenneth Riegel, after an earlier revival with Norman Treigle as the Father. The singers need to be dominant in their roles or it doesn't come alive. Neblett did a lovely job. Unfortunately, Treigle did not reprise his role with her, but did record an aria on his recital disc. There is also a stunning photo w/him and Arlene Saunders in an opera guide.
Beautifully sung by Renee Fleming... transported me so far away