Still Dangerous After 181 Years?

Most Parisians know the name of the composer Auber only as the name
of a metro stop near the Palais Garnier. But Daniel FranÁois Esprit Auber
(1782-1871) was the most performed French opera composer in the 19th Century
and his opera La Muette de Portici (The Mute Girl of Portici) has an
important history. The fact that this opera is in the season at the
Opera-Comique next year, from the 3rd to the 21st of April, has caused a minor

When performed in Brussels in 1830, two years after its debut at the Paris
OpÈra, it was already a European favorite and had established the new genre,
“Grand Opera.” The libretto, by Auber’s long-time
collaborator, EugËne Scribe, is the story of an abortive attempt by the city of
Naples to revolt against Spanish rule. While the chorus represents the
oppressed populace, it was actually the duet “Amour sacrÈ de la
patrie” ( “Sacred Love of the Homeland”) that caused a riot
in the hall. As every Belgian child knows, this immediately became the anthem
of the revolution against their Dutch rulers and, some months later, Belgium
was an independent country.

What turned heads was the tiny print in the OpÈra-Comique brochure
indicating that this opera was a co-production with “ThÈ‚tre Royal de la
Monnaie” — Belgium’s principal opera in the capitol of
Brussels, also known as “Koninklijke Muntschouwburg (de Munt)” in
the Dutch language. (The opera is located in an area where money was minted in
earlier times.) The La Monnaie orchestra will actually be in the pit and the
conductor is Patrick Davin, another Belge.

Belgium was annexed by France in 1797, given over to Holland with the fall
of Napoleon in 1815 but freed itself of Dutch rule in 1831. It is a
parliamentary democracy with a monarch (now Albert II) with limited powers. In
1971, as a result of conflict between the two principal regions, a new
confederation of three semi-autonomous regions was created: Dutch speaking
Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south with the city of
Brussels — mostly French speaking but physically in the area of Flanders
— a third region. This federation was created to resolve the political
conflicts between the two language regions of Belgium in the 1960s.

Wappers_belgian_revolution.gifEpisodes from September Days 1830 on the Place de l’HÙtel de Ville in Brussels by Gustave Wappers (1803-1874) [Source: Wikipedia]

These historic conflicts are again a factor in Belgium politics and there
are even proponents of dividing the country in two. As a result of these
conflicts, Belgium has been unable to form a new government since the last fell
in June, 2010 (the previous government remains as a caretaker.) The stalemate
marks the longest any state in history has been without a government and many
young people, who refuse to accept that Belgium cannot stay united, are
protesting. A recent “Nude-in” by students was well-covered by the
European media and there is now a Facebook group demanding a new staging of
this historic Auber opera.

In any case, this is a political hot potato and an April
7 article in the major Brussels newspaper, La Libre

entitled “‘La Muette de PorticiOui, mais
pas ici!” (“The Mute Girl of Portici? Yes, but not
here!”) the reporter asked a wary Peter De Caluwe, the La Monnaie boss,
about his role in this project. De Caluwe, obviously ducking the political
issue, spoke of conversations with JÈrÙme Deschamps who heads the
OpÈra-Comique. When Dechamps proposed a co-production of an opera by Adolphe
Adam, De Caluwe, “amused,” suggested La Muette de Portici
instead and Deschamps, unexpectedly, ran with that suggestion, now soliciting a
third co-producer: the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The production will be by
Emma Dante, the Sicilian director who staged the politically edgy
Carmen of Bizet opening the La Scala season in December of 2009.

The La Libre article concludes: “There is no date planned
then for this production on the stage at La Monnaie: nothing before 2015. By
that time, we should have a government and, if everything goes well, still a

Frank Cadenhead

Click here for Jan Necker’s article on La Muette de Portici.

image_description=Daniel FranÁois Esprit Auber
product_title=Still Dangerous After 181 Years?
product_by=By Frank Cadenhead [This article first appeared in La Scena Musicale]
product_id=Above: Daniel FranÁois Esprit Auber