Le Prophete was enormously successful in spite of the then powerful censer-bearers of the Italian school. We now see its defects rather than its merits. Meyerbeer is criticised for not putting into practice theories he did not know and no account is taken of his fearlessness, which was great for that period. No one else could have drawn the cathedral scene with such breadth of stroke and extraordinary brilliancy. The paraphrase of Domine salvum fac regem reveals great ingenuity. His method of treating the organ is wonderful, and his idea of the ritournello Sur le Jeu de hautbois is charming. This precedes and introduces the children’s chorus, and is constructed on a novel theme which is developed brilliantly by the choruses, the orchestra and the organ combined. The repetition of the Domine Salvum at the end of the scene, which bursts forth abruptly in a different key, is full of color and character.
[Illustration: Meyerbeer, Composer of Les Huguenots]
The story of Le Pardon de Ploermel is interesting. It was first called Dinorah, a name which Meyerbeer picked up abroad. But Meyerbeer liked to change the titles of his operas several times in the course of the rehearsals in order to keep public curiosity at fever heat. He had the notion of writing an opera-comique in one act, and he asked his favorite collaborators, Jules Barbier and Michael Carre, for a libretto. They produced Dinorah in three scenes and with but three characters. The music was written promptly and was given to Perrin, the famous director, whose unfortunate influence soon made itself felt. A director’s first idea at that time was to demand changes in the piece given him. “A single act by you, Master? Is that permissible? What can we put on after that? A new work by Meyerbeer should take up the entire evening.” That was the way the insidious director talked, and there was all the more chance of his being listened to as the author was possessed by a mania for retouching and making changes. So Meyerbeer took the score to the Mediterranean where he spent the winter. The next spring he brought back the work developed into three acts with choruses and minor characters. Besides these additions he had written the words which Barbier and Carre should have done.
The rehearsals were tedious. Meyerbeer wanted Faure and Madame Carvalho in the leading roles but one was at the Opera-Comique and the other at her own house, the Theatre-Lyrique. The work went back and forth from the Place Favart to the Place du Chatelet. But the author’s hesitancy was at bottom only a pretext. What he wanted was to secure a postponement of Limnander’s opera Les Blancs et les Bleus. The action of this work and of Dinorah, as well, took place in Brittany. In the hope of being Meyerbeer’s choice, both theatres turned poor Limnander away. Finally, Dinorah fell to the Opera-Comique. After long hard work, which the author demanded, Madame Cabel and MM. Faure and Sainte-Foix gave a perfect performance.