Personalities | Charles Gounod | High Romantic | Opera
Charles Gounod almost became a priest, and his first works comprised church music. However, the mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821–1910), a member of the Garcia operatic family, perceived Gounod’s potential and persuaded him compose opera. Eventually, he wrote 12 of them. Gounod composed Sapho (1851) for Viardot, but it did not make a distinctive ‘French’ mark on opera, as the composer had hoped, and neither did his grand opéra, also written for Viardot, La nonne sanglante (‘The Bleeding Nun’, 1854).
Gounod appears to have come to the conclusion that grand opéra was not his style. He turned instead to opéra comique, choosing first one of the witty comedies of the French playwright Molière, Le médecin malgré lui (‘A Doctor in Spite of Himself’, 1666). Gounod’s opera, first performed in 1858, was not only his first opéra comique, but also his first substantial success. It was soon followed by another, even greater achievement, his Faust. Gounod’s reputation as an operatic composer has tended to rest on this one outstanding success. He never quite attained the same peak again, but Mireille (1864) was notable for its colourful score and Roméo et Juliette (1867) for its beautiful love music.
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