Partners in rhyme: Alphonse Royer, Gustave Vaëz, and foreign opera in Paris during the July Monarchy.
Marvin, Roberta Montemorra and Poriss, Hilary (eds.)
Fashions and Legacies of Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera.
Cambridge University Press.
By 1840, there was a long but sporadic tradition of mounting productions of foreign opera in translation at the Académie Royale de Musique. The 1820s had seen three operas by Rossini arranged for the institution (Maometto II, Mosè in Egitto and Il viaggio a Reims), and the following decade saw Weber’s Euriante (1831) and Mozart’s Don Juan (1834). Each of these productions represented an individual enterprise on the part of the librettists who undertook the work, with radically different approaches to translation, convention, institutional pressures and – in general – the question of a work’s textuality.
Starting in 1839, however, the translation of foreign opera took on a different aspect with a single team devoting nearly a decade to translating foreign opera for the French stage: Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. Alongside Scribe’s Dom Sébastien (the French version of Donizetti’s Poliuto, 1840) and the Pacini-Berlioz arrangement of Der Freischütz (1841), Royer and Vaëz produced translations of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Don Pasquale, Verdi’s I Lombardi all prima crociata and Rossini’s Otello. They also prepared the libretto for the Rossini pasticcio Robert le Bruce (1847), for Donizetti’s L’ange de Nisida and its better-known revision, La favorite (1840).
Royer and Vaëz’s activity has to be seen in the context of their work – in mutual collaboration and in association with other colleagues – that included stage works for almost every theatre in Paris in almost every genre, activity as the directors of the Théâtre Royal de l’Odéon and of the Académie Royale (later Impériale) de Musique itself. Their musical interests led them to write libretti for Boisselot and Gevaert, with Vaëz writing the libretto for Donizetti’s Rita ou Le mari battu and Royer translating Flotow’s Stradella for Brussels. Both wrote the libretto for the collaborative Les premiers pas that opened the Opéra National in 1847.
Despite the close relationship between Royer and Vaëz, almost every production was subject to slightly different artistic pressures and the balance between differing circumstance and a continuing collaboration marked out the products of their work between 1839 and 1847.
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