I once saw the last act in all its integrity and with six harps accompanying the famous trio. We shall never see the six harps again, for Garnier, instead of reproducing exactly the placing of the orchestra in the old Opera, managed so well in the new one that they are unable to put in the six harps of old or the four drums with which Meyerbeer got such surprising effects in Robert and Le Prophete. I believe, however, that recent improvements have averted this disaster in a certain measure, and that there is now a place for the drums. But we shall never hear the six harps again.
We must say something of the genesis of Meyerbeer’s works, for in many instances this was curious and few people know about it.
We might like to see works spring from the author’s brain as complete as Minerva was when she sprang from Jove’s, but that is infrequently the case. When we study the long series of operas which Gluck wrote, we are surprised to meet some things which we recognize as having seen before in the masterpieces which immortalize his name. And often the music is adapted to entirely different situations in the changed form. The words of a follower become the awesome prophecy of a high priest. The trio in Orphee with its tender love and expressions of perfect happiness fairly trembles with accents of sorrow. The music had been written for an entirely different situation which justified them. Massenet has told us that he borrowed right and left from his unpublished score, La Coupe du Roi de Thule. That is what Gluck did with his Elena e Paride which had little success. I may as well confess that one of the ballets in Henry VIII came from the finale of an opera-comique in one act. This work was finished and ready to go to rehearsal when the whole thing was stopped because I had the audacity to assert to Nestor Roqueplan, the director of Favart Hall, that Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro was a masterpiece.
Meyerbeer, even more than anyone, tried not to lose his ideas and the study of their transformation is extremely interesting. One day Nuitter, the archivist at the Opera, learned of an important sale of manuscripts in Berlin. He attended the sale and brought back a lot of Meyerbeer’s rough drafts which included studies for a Faust that the author never finished. These fragments give no idea what the piece would have been. We see Faust and Mephistopheles walking in Hell. They come to the Tree of Human Knowledge on the banks of the Styx and Faust picks the fruit. From this detail it is easy to imagine that the libretto is bizarre. The authorship of this amazing libretto is unknown, but it is not strange that Meyerbeer soon abandoned it. From this still-born Faust, Scribe, at the request of the author, constructed Robert le Diable. An aria sung by Faust on the banks of the Styx becomes the Valse Infernale.