05 окт 2012

Introducing "La statue"

On how I discovered and worked on resurrection of Reyer's opera "La statue."

While making research during creating and/or updating Wikipedia articles on  Massenet (particularly his opera "Esclarmonde") in early December 2008, I learnt about Ernest Reyer's music, particularly his opera "Sigurd", and also "La statue" which was his first great success. And while some  (non-commercial) recordings of performances of "Sigurd" do exist, I could not find  any reference on recordings of "La statue" over whole internet. That puzzled me greatly.  Success in middle of 19th century and total oblivion right now! Why?

My further reserach on that opera yield only partial result and I could obtain only fragmentary information about it. In early December 2008, an introductory article on  "La statue" at Wikipedia was created. I knew that once even the great Jules Massenet prized that work after he himself participated at its premiere at the "Théâtre Lyrique" in April 1861 (where he played timpani). "A superb score and tremendous success" - he said about it in "My Memoirs." And if he said so, why, I asked myself, we cannot have even a single recording of it now, since it was not performed anywhere for over a century now. Conductors and managers of opera theatres apparently ignored that work. Pity! I desired greatly to hear it myself one day...

So that was the beginning of my interest in that opera. Only few sporadic  references I found, and that was all. On start I could not even find synopsis of  it, no libretto was accessible to me, and on internet there was no scores of it yet  available.

Then, in early January 2010, I spot significant progress: someone uploaded PDF  piano reduction vocal score to the IMSLP library and for the first time I could "see" that work. But that was only the first act of "La statue" (of earlier version). By extracting libretto lines from that score I could at last guess what that opera was all about. I hoped that, with time, somebody will add the other two acts of it to the collection at IMSLP, so I could learn the whole work and thus obtain its full synopsis. I waited and waited, but  additional acts were not coming. "Are their copies still in existence?" - I asked myself.

At the end of July 2010 at last I could see at IMSLP the complete vocal score of "La statue," which was the Paris Opéra revised version, all three acts in one file, courtesy to another uploader (Massenetique). In August of that year I could thus extract the full libretto from that PDF score (which is available here). Soon after that I found the review by P. Scudo in "Revue musicale" (La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris,  1861, pp. 223-229) about "La statue" very premiere in April 1861, so my  knowledge about that opera and its synopsis become now complete. Knowledge yes,  but I still desired to hear it, and with no recording in existence, I could only  dream about it, or... since no one else seems to do anything about it, I  started to act on my own.

The task was accomplished by using powerful computer programs to render and recognize that PDF score and make it "playable." first I used "Universal Document Converter" to convert PDF score, page by page, scene after scene, into the TIFF graphic format which can then be "recognized" by music editing software, for instance the program called "SmartScore-X Pro" from  Musitek. Thus original electronic printout was converted into typical music sheets, and those files were MIDI-playable. This way I could at last hear that music for the first time. It was not easy task to accomplish taking into consideration that not so perfect scanning quality caused plenty of errors during recognition and conversion which I have no choice but to correct manually: a time consuming effort. This way it took about 2 months to complete vocal score of "La statue" size of about 300 pages.

Since SmartScore I dealt only with MIDI type of music files, I could only use  General MIDI instruments to play freshly re-created music. At start I have to decide what  instruments will be playing vocal staves, along the piano as an "orchestra." I did not care much about high sound quality, though, because my initial desire was just to learn that music, create *any* sort of playback of modest quality (dependent on quality of the sound card of particular machine, of course).

My choice of voice substitutes in this electronic representation (later also preserved in the VST playback of the full orchestral score I created) were thus  as follows: Margyane is represented by oboe solo, Sélim - cello solo, Amgiad -  tenor tuba solo, Mouck - solo trumpet, Kaloum-Barouck - double bass solo. Chorus is represented  by simple MIDI chorus voices of "Ahs".

In the middle of December 2010, all those MIDI files of "La statue" created  under the SmartScore-X Plus were completed by me. It takes, however, yet another three  additional months to edit them carefully and completely, still discovering on the way some minor errors here or there (few accidentals missing or misplaced!) At last I added original French lyrics to that recreated score and at end of March 2011 all my MIDI recordings of "La statue" were finally done under high quality synthesizer and are from now on included in the free IMSLP library making them the first ever recordings of music of "La statue" available to public.

That first stage of my work accomplished, I then desire to improve the  quality of the sound used, now dreaming to hear that music in full orchestral timbre.  But I did not have access to full orchestral score by Reyer; I could not find it  anywhere. Although, with time, IMSLP library was growing and I see many other  orchestral scores (including operas) available there, but I could not find any  Reyer's orchestral scores at all. One reference found on the Web, at Chester-Novello Hire,  advertised that they indeed have the score of "La statue." But I am only a  private person, not a musical institution, so they did not ever bother to answer to my request. Search at the Wordcat.org, the world largest library catalog on the Net,  gave me a hint that the only closest possible source of full orchestral score  for that opera is at the Oxford University. Again, hopeless case for me: I can not  travel to Oxford for the sake to see that score, say nothing about obtaining a copy. No  known (to me) publisher carries that score in their catalogue for sale today. Original publisher, "Choudens Fils" at Paris, is long out of business, bought, merged, or otherwise  metamorphosed with another publishing house since those ancient times... So  again, I feel I have no choice but to act on my own, and create my own orchestral version  of "La statue", orchestrating that music from scratch using available piano  reduction score.

By May 2011 I am ready to pursue that task, now obtaining powerful "Finale  2011" music editing program along with equally powerful VST library of sounds  included or separately purchased: the Garritan Personal Orchestra. Those tools  helped me to realize that tremendous task. I orchestrated "La statue", starting work from the beginning, initially in May of 2011, with that very first Introduction to act 1, correcting and improving my score multiple times before being satisfied with the result and before even daring to proceed any further, in meantime doing orchestration of my own music. At last in late December of 2011 I feel ready and decide to progress into the scene 1 of act 1 and beyond, and, subsequently, accomplishing the task of orchestrating the entire opera, the task being completed by June 2012 and from now on my scores are included within MusicaNeo library.

About music of "La statue"

Opera opens with the short orchestral introduction and its main theme which subsequently plays significant role near the conclusion of act 1:

"Tremble, si ton coeur oublie
La promesse qui te lie."

("Tremble, if your heart forgets the promise that binds you"):

That theme is subsequently repeated moments later in  menacing tutti fortissimo only to dissolve itself in infinitely beautiful melody  never repeated in this opera again (which is hard not to consider as foretelling  precursor of other one, well known Italian song "O sole mio," created near the  end of 19th century), descending quickly into delightful transitional (to the next scene) pianissimo as a remainder to the listener that regardless of ferocity of menacing forces frequently used later on to warn, to threaten and to scare the hero as well as the listening  public, that all will end well in the end in the radiance of joy and peacefull of happiness.

Another theme of the opera is the leitmotiv always associated with Amgiad  the genie, used frequently in bass instruments:

or its variation:

or this motive taken from Amgiad's ballade:


Traveling Pilgrims have their own theme: 

But the most fundamental melody is this love theme between Sélim and Margyane:



Because, to be sure, the main theme of that opera is love, told in somehow Oriental environment and climate, with elements partially borrowed from Arabian "One Thousand and One Night," with its peripheral and occasional magic and "machinery." Musically work it stays on hard core of European (Western) tradition of mid 19-th century romantic music and does not resemble much of oriental style, with only few exceptions to that rule, however. Some fragments of ballet music (which Reyer extended signficantly later on for the staging of his work at the Great Paris Opéra where ballet was considered obligatory, borrowed from dropped original Sélim's Cavatina in act 2) contain clear oriental climate in perhaps the same or similar way as Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" does.

The most successful act is act 1 as constantly rising lyrical and  dramatic tense is steadily built up, up to the act's finale; to much lesser  degree the act 2 (but with great ballet music and fine ensemble moments). Again  tense is built up in the first tableau of the act 3, right from the unique and phenomenal storm music (the Simoom), duet between Margyane and Sélim which passes into  an intensely dramatic trio (with Amgiad the genie).

Overall one could understand why that opera was such great success initially.  One could even suspect why it is so forgotten right now, if the factor of it theme and place did not play a role in that decline in popularity, on top of its perhaps not so perfectly balanced structure or lacking challenging or breath-taking aria for primary singers. Nevertheless, it is of my opinion that this opera is the great example of French operatic tradition, deserving to be known and recognized and, once I discovered it and myself recreated, I become its great admirer and proponent.

My revision of music of "La statue"

During process of recreating (orchestrating) of that music which I did, as is mentioned above, on sole basis of the piano reduction score made by Georges Bizet, it was sometimes necessary to implement few minor changes. That score was the 2nd edition (revision), final version of the opera made for Paris Opéra, with greatly extended ballet in act 2. But to my liking I also decided to include cute Mouck's Couplets in act 1 (which final version skipped, along all other humorous fragments). That is the only revision I made to its structure. Besides it, few secondary counterpoint lines which original Reyer's score most certainly did not contain I also included in few places as my own "signature," justified by logic of musical development.

Addition of the wind machine in the beginning of act 3 (storm music) is my own idea and I don't know if Reyer's score also used it. Perhaps it could (and should), since that instrument was already known and in use during opera's composition (around 1860), as Wagner, for instance, used it also in his "Die fliegende Holländer". Also, careful listener and the follower of Reyer's original score will notice that few notes which Sélim sings during dramatic trio in act 3 diverge slightly from the Reyer's original (as I found it in that old vocal score) and are of my own creation, in my opinion significantly improving dramatic effect of that intense melody, better matching its harmonic background!

It is also worth noticing that in my quest to orchestrate "La statue" one more limitation I have to keep in mind all the time: because of using the Garritan libraries of sound samples for playback, and my choice for Margyane's voice to be the modern oboe solo sample, I was forced to avoid using the two (oboe solo sample for Margyane's voice and orchestral oboes) at the same time unless unpredictable results like deterioriation of sound quality would occur. That is, in my own orchestrated version the "orchestral" oboes are not used (most probably against the wishes and intention of the composer) in measures when Margyane sings, just for the sake to avoid those samples collision. Similarly with other instruments, as orchestral trumpets (at moments when sample is used to imitate voice of Mouck), or tuba solo (when Amgiad sings). By wishing for my orchestral version to be playable all the time within Garritan library without distortion or undesirable and unpredictable effects, I have not choice but to carefully and deliberately avoid those voice collisions.



With thus my own version of the score created, at least for now it is the only version which is readily available. Taking into consideration of the unique and rare qualities of that opera not performed for many years, in the conclusion, let me add my own personal appeal to all willing conductors, managers of symphony orchestras and opera companies, recording studios around the world: let them stop ignore that great work! It is pity that this music never so far achieved its live recording yet (that is by real orchestras and real human voices not its electronic substitutes). Each year, multitude of far inferior other works see the light of day out from the obscurity. It is  perhaps high time now that "La statue" also achieved that much attention.

Voytek Gagalka



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