The policy imposed on Bizet and Delibes certainly deprived us of several works which would now be among the glories of the repertoire at the Opera and the Opera-Comique. That is an irreparable misfortune; one which we cannot sufficiently deplore.
As Dejanire, cast in a new form, has again appeared in the vast frame of the Opera stage, I may be allowed to recall my recollections of my friend and collaborator, Louis Gallet, the diligent and chosen companion of my best years, whose support was so dear and precious to me. Collaboration for some reason unknown to me is deprecated. Opera, it is said, should spring from the brain like Minerva, fully armed. So much the better if such divine intellects can be found, but they are rare and always will be. For dramatic and literary art on the one hand and musical art on the other require different powers, which are not ordinarily found in the same person.
I first met Louis Gallet in 1871. Camille du Locle, who was the manager of the Opera-Comique at the time, could not put on Le Timbre d’Argent, and while he waited for better days, which never came, to do that, he offered me a one-act work. He proposed Louis Gallet as my collaborator, although I had not known him until then. “You were made to understand each other,” he told me. Gallet was then employed in some capacity at the Beaujon hospital and lived near me in the Faubourg Saint-Honore. We soon formed the habit of seeing each other every day. Du Locle had judged aright. We had the same tastes in art and literature. We were equally averse to whatever is too theatrical and also to whatever is not sufficiently so, to the commonplace and the too extravagant. We both despised easy success and we understood each other wonderfully. Gallet was not a musician, but he enjoyed and understood music, and he criticised with rare good taste.
Japan had recently been opened to Europeans. Japan was fashionable; all they talked about was Japan, it was a real craze. So the idea of writing a Japanese piece occurred to us. We submitted the idea to du Locle, but he was afraid of an entirely Japanese stage setting. He wanted us to soften the Japanese part, and it was he, I think, who had the idea of making it half Japanese and half Dutch, the way the slight work La Princesse Jaune was cast.
That was only a beginning and in our daily talks we sketched the most audacious projects. The leading concerts of the time did not balk at performing large vocal works, as they too often do to-day to the great detriment of the variety of their programmes. We then thought that we were at the beginning of the prosperity of French oratorio which only needed encouragement to flourish. I read by chance in an old Bible this wonderful phrase,
“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth,” and so I proposed to Gallet that we do a Deluge. At first he wanted to introduce characters. “No,” I said, “put the Bible narrative into simple verse, and I will do the rest.” We know with what care and success he accomplished his delicate task. Meanwhile he gave Massenet the texts for Marie-Madeleine and Le Roi de Lahore, and these two works created a great stir in the operatic world.