Emmanuel Chabrier

Heard part of Emmanuel Chabrier’s opera Briséïs today. Can’t imagine why Chabrier thought he was being “modernist” though – didn’t seem that different to me – lovely music, great harmonies and what a sense of drama. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But, not for the first time, I thought how little suited the French language is to being set to music. No wonder Chabrier had problems with his libretti. Even a truly great aria such as Massenet’s “Pourquoi me reveiller?” suffers – the “du” in “du printemps” is so weak-sounding. It must be awful to sing with your mouth all twisted up.

The only thing we sang in French when I was a treble was Rutter’s “Il est né le divin enfant” at Christmas. Good tune, of course, but again, seemed very odd when we had been used to primarily Latin and English.

Surely the greatest language for opera has to be the musical Italian, with all its open vowels all over the place. Could that be why so many of the best operas are in Italian, i.e. such as Verdi had an advantage before they even started? And of course Mozart used Italian, even though he had a choice.

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