Has Giacomo Meyerbeer’s time come again? His French operas were extravagantly admired cultural monuments 150 years ago, and now they seem to be making a cautious comeback on European stages. That fact has not escaped the attention of the ever-enterprising Opera Orchestra of New York, which recently gave a concert performance of Les Huguenots at Carnegie Hall. If OONY did not exactly put Meyerbeer back on his pedestal, it was still a grand occasion. After all, this opera, based on events leading up to the gruesome St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, was designed as a total entertainment package for audiences of 1836. It has everything: historical melodrama on a huge scale, vocal fireworks, lavish spectacle, orchestral splendor, and endless divertissements. Meyerbeer may have been the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day in that respect, but he delivered vastly superior goods.
Les Huguenots was a hot ticket at the Metropolitan from 1884 until 1914, and the casts during that gilded age were invariably spectacular. The lack of singers able to meet Meyerbeer’s requirements is one reason why his operas have languished, but OONY fielded a surprisingly strong septet. Marcello Giordani commanded all the treacherous high notes assigned to Raoul, the opera’s most demanding role, and he even managed to bring a measure of courtly grace to his singing. Krassimira Stoyanova did all that and more as Valentine; here is another important OONY discovery who should be at the Met, a disciplined lyric soprano with an appealingly plangent texture and generous expressive instincts.
The rest of the cast was nearly as fine, especially Olga Makarina (Marguerite) and Maria Zifchak (Urbain), who sang their coloratura showpieces with precision and flair. It was also a treat to hear a true bass, Luiz-Ottavio Faria, toss off Marcel’s arias, while Kamel Boutros (De Nevers) and Gary Simpson (St. Bris) made the most of their briefer opportunities. Eve Queler conducted an unusually full edition of the opera, capturing much of the score’s color and grandeur in a stirring performance that surely won Meyerbeer new friends. They will be pleased to learn that even this neglected composer has his own official Website (www.meyerbeer.com), and it is well worth a visit.