Not just “Carmen”: the new editorial project “Bizet’s Other Operas”
Gradually Hugh Macdonald's editions of Georges Bizet's lesser-known operas “Djamileh”, “Don Procopio”, “La Jolie Fille de Perth”, “La Maison du Docteur”, Le Docteur Miracle” as well as “Ivan IV” will be published by Fishergate Music. The performance material will be available at Bärenreiter - Alkor.
Although “Les Pêcheurs de perles” and “Carmen” are familiar in all the opera-houses of the world, it is well known that many of Bizet's other works were published in seriously corrupt versions after his early death in 1875. The success of Carmen in the 1880s encouraged the publisher Choudens to issue new versions of many works, free of the composer's control. There are scores with several different endings to “Les Pêcheurs de perles”, for example, but only one by Bizet. The four-act opera “La Jolie Fille de Perth” appeared in many different versions, none of them conforming to Bizet's original. Even Carmen was known until the 1950s only in inauthentic adaptations. The Italian opera buffa “Don Procopio” was not published until 1906, with many additions and revisions by other hands. The grand opera “Ivan IV” from 1865 was not published until 1951, and then only in a version in which almost every number was revised or altered. The new editions set out to rectify this history with authentic editions of the music of a major French composer, with full critical commentaries, showing alternate versions and important textual variants.
Bizet contemplated or sketched a number of operas that were never finished (or started). Both “Les Pêcheurs de perles” and “Carmen” are available in many different editions today, but the other performable operas have not been so fortunate. The series “Bizet’s Other Operas “ therefore consists of five volumes, as follows:
2: Don Procopio
3a–b: La Jolie Fille de Perth
4: La Maison du Docteur and Le Docteur Miracle
Volume 1 was published in 2020 and Volume 2 in 2021. “La Jolie Fille de Perth” is expected in 2022 and the series is due to be completed in 2024. The new edition of “Djamileh” was featured by Centre de musique romantique française Palazzetto Bru Zane in a revival of the opera in Tours in 2021, to be seen also in Tourcoing in 2022 and Toulon in 2023.
Scores from Fishergate Music illustrate a new approach to layout and organization. The scores are designed to be user-friendly, easily "heard" by conductors and readers, and to represent the music as realistically on the page as to the ear. To this end all transposing wind instruments are printed at concert pitch. This is particularly helpful since Bizet used horns and trumpets (or cornets) in a bewildering variety of different keys, frequently changing horn crooks, in particular. There are occasions when the clarinets, the two pairs of horns, and the cornets are all in different keys. A traditional score, with these instruments shown at their "written" pitch, gives the notation as the composer wrote it. But what is necessary for a copyist is not helpful to a reader. Fishergate scores represent the sound of the music directly.
Another feature of Fishergate scores is respect for silent bars. Many publications of orchestral scores print only those lines where the player has notes to play, omitting staves if the instrument is silent. This can be very confusing to the reader, so Fishergate always shows the full family of woodwind or brass or strings, as required, to keep a sense of which instruments are participating at any moment.
Djamileh. Opéra-comique in one act
The first volume in “Bizet’s Other Operas“ is the one-act opéra-comique “Djamileh”, first heard at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, in May 1872. It was commissioned by that theatre as compensation for their half-promise to stage one of the two operas he had begun in 1870, “Clarissa Harlowe” and “Grisélidis”. In that year the Prussian siege of Paris intervened, forcing Bizet into military uniform, and when it was over, the Opéra-Comique could only manage shorter works. Three new one-act works were ready by the summer of 1872: Saint-Saëns's “La Princesse jaune”, Paladilhe's “Le Passant”, and Bizet's “Djamileh”.
The libretto is by Louis Gallet, who described working with Bizet in his memoir “Notes d'un librettiste”. Gallet recalled taking the train through war-scarred suburbs to Le Vésinet in the outskirts of Paris. The bearded Bizet, wearing an oversize jacket and a straw hat and smoking a pipe, picked him up at the station, and they spent the day gossiping and working, Bizet never once sitting down, but pacing up and down in the garden (where his elderly father pottered around in the flowerbeds) or in his workroom. In the evening Bizet and his young wife (the daughter of his composition teacher Halévy) took Gallet back to the ferry with an endless flow of jokes and conversation. Within a few weeks “Djamileh”, based on a story in Alfred de Musset’s discursive poem of 1832 “Namouna”, was finished.
After the first performance on 22 May 1872 “Djamileh” received ten more performances. It was next heard in Stockholm in 1889 and it became popular in the years leading up to the First World War. In 1898 Mahler conducted it in Vienna.
There are three main roles for singers, one for a speaker, and one for a dancer. The opera is set in the palace of Haroun (tenor) in Cairo. His intendant Splendiano (tenor) has the job of finding a replacement for Djamileh (soprano), Haroun's slave-girl, since she is allotted only a month as his concubine. Splendiano sees this as an opportunity to win her for himself, but the cause of true love is served because Djamileh is in love with Haroun. She contrives to deceive Haroun into accepting her by impersonating the dancer whose exotic gyrations have won his admiration.
The story gave Bizet the opportunity for some fascinating exotic music, especially in the solo "Ghazel" which Djamileh sings, and in the "Almée's Dance" in which the chorus also participates. In other numbers Bizet displays the fully mature manner shared by the three works he still lived to compose: the “Jeux d'enfants” for piano duet, the incidental music for “L'Arlésienne”, and Carmen. The final duet for Haroun and Djamileh is one of his finest achievements.
We have to thank the directors of the Opéra-Comique for looking beyond Djamileh and for at once inviting Bizet to write a full-length work for their genteel audiences. The result was Carmen.
Don Procopio, Italian opera buffa in two acts
Volume 2 in “Bizet’s Other Operas“ is “Don Procopio”, composed in Rome in 1858–1859 when Bizet was living there as winner of the Prix de Rome. He was twenty years old, and he had already composed the remarkable Symphony in C two years earlier. He was required to submit a major work to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris as evidence that he was working for his scholarship. As an admirer of Mozart and Rossini he was determined to write an Italian opera, so he searched for an existing libretto to set. His first choice was “Parisina”, already set by Donizetti in 1833, but he then decided to adapt “Don Procopio”, a libretto by Carlo Cambiaggio, set by a group of five composers as a pasticcio and performed in 1844. Bizet wrote to his piano teacher Marmontel: "I'm finishing a comic Italian opera. With Italian words you have to write Italian music, and I've made no attempt to conceal that influence. I've tried really hard to be comic, and at the same time individual." The music has a true Italianate sparkle, especially in the ensembles. The Trio for three basses is a masterpiece of comic music.
The story is similar to that of Donizetti's “Don Pasquale”. It concerns the attempts of a young lady's uncle and guardian, Don Andronico, to marry her off to an elderly miser, Don Procopio, rather than allow her to marry the young officer Odoardo, with whom she is in love. She, Donna Bettina, is supported by her brother, Don Ernesto, and her aunt Eufemia, and they succeed in their mission by convincing Don Procopio that Bettina is an extravagant lover of luxury.
There are six solo voices and a chorus. The main soprano part is full of splendid coloratura, and the tenor is given one of Bizet's most beautiful solos, the “Serenata”, which he used again as a “Sérénade” in “La Jolie Fille de Perth”. This solo is accompanied by a guitar, a mandolin, and a pair of "Voci umane", an unusual name for cors anglais. A chorus from the first act finale was also recycled in “La Jolie Fille de Perth”. Another tune found its way into “Les Pêcheurs de perles”.
Bizet composed the opera to fulfil the conditions of his prize and never expected a performance. The manuscript was not discovered until 1894, when it was revealed that it consisted only of the twelve musical numbers. There was no overture and no recitative. For a stage performance it would need some linking material such as that supplied by Charles Malherbe for the first performance in Monte Carlo in 1906 and published in 1905. The present edition contains only Bizet's work, in which form it is ideal for concert performance and for recording.