We are delighted to share a new review of one of Robert Letellier’s latest books with us, the brilliant Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète: A Parable of Politics, Faith and Transcendence. Please see below for the full review, authored by Robert Gibson, and don’t forget you can grab 60% off Letellier’s The Bible in Music for the duration of January by clicking here.
Letellier has written an enthusiastic, thoroughly researched and readable account of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète. Scribe the librettist based the opera on the Anabaptist revolt 1534-35. Letellier has a useful chapter on the dramaturgy. The Hussites, a millenarian religious sect, seek to attack the oppressive nobility who have brought about social malaise. This sect, despite their Latin prayers and preaching on social justice, are manipulated by men who use faith and idealism for their own self-aggrandizement. Thus, religion is entirely discredited. Nevertheless, charismatic John of Leyden who has real faith and concern for social justice becomes an Anabaptist leader in the belief that he is the Chosen one, the Son of God. Using Old Testament imagery of militaristic triumphalism, he resorts to the uses of terror to bring about the chiliastic revolution. However, prior to his assault on Münster, he reflects on the lost pastoral paradise. The salvation emerges when John is told, that he is to be betrayed by the very militarism of which he was a leader. Disillusioned by militarism and religious fanaticism, John seeks to regain the pastoral through new spiritual means.
Meyerbeer’s work provides insights into what was the second phase of the Reformation. Letellier explores its rich symbolism. Theological, political, power and religion and social such as mother and son, and womanhood. In addition, its musical form and style are examined. However, this opera has a visual dimension and this enables Letellier to identify its iconography. The premiere and its reception are invedtigated, as well as important subsequent and modern productions. The book has beautiful contemporary illustrations that enliven our understanding of the opera and its period. Letellier demonstrates his scholarship by providing a comprehensive range of indices and an exhaustive bibliography.
Letellier is an articulate exponent of the works of Meyerbeer. However, he is not a lone voice, so perhaps the last word should be left to his quotation of from John Klein: ‘Meyerbeer remains persistently under a cloud. This is scarcely comprehensible when one considers that an opera such as Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermuir – which is inferior dramatically and, on the whole, musically to both Les Huguenots and Le Prophète – is revived with tremendous and altogether unjustifiable success. With all due respect to the great Verdi himself, his I Lombardi is hardly comparable in interest and variety to Meyerbeer’s best works.’
Robert Gibson, 6th January 2019