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September 5th: Giacomo Meyerbeer

September 5, 2013
Giacomo_Meyerbeer_nuorempanaGiacomo Meyerbeer (Jacob Liebmann Beer), the most frequently performed opera composer on major European stages in the 19th century, was born to a wealthy Jewish family near Berlin on this date in 1791. His work combined German orchestral and Italian vocal styles, and theatrical stagings on a grand scale, all of which turned Paris, where he lived when he was not in Germany, into the opera capital of Europe. Meyerbeer was a virtuoso on piano, but early in his career devoted himself to composing operas, and by the age of 40 was director of music in the Prussian court. He helped launch the career of Richard Wagner, who later turned on him and became a bitter and anti-Semitic enemy; between the impact of Wagner as the arbiter of German cultural taste, and the Nazis, who suppressed Meyerbeer’s music altogether, he fell from grace into relative musical obscurity in the 20th century. Despite assimilationist pressures, Meyerbeer remained committed to Judaism throughout his life — “those who, on the ninth day, do not bleed from this operation [circumcision] shall continue to bleed an entire lifetime, even after death,” he wrote to Heinrich Heine in 1839. To see the finale from the second act of his 1836 opera, Les Huguenots, look below. “Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” —Giacomo Meyerbeer