Personalities | Jacques-François-Fromental Halévy | Early Romantic | Opera
Jacques-François-Fromental Halévy, who was born in Paris, studied there with several composers – of whom the most influential was Cherubini. Success at the opera house was rather long in coming, however, and Halévy had to endure rejections and failures before scoring his first success with Clari (1828), which was written for the Spanish mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran (1808–36). Halévy’s next significant work did not appear for another seven years, but when it did, it was his masterpiece. The opera, La juive (‘The Jewess’, 1835) took its place among the fundamental works of French grand opéra and was praised at several levels by other composers. Berlioz admired its vivid orchestration, while Wagner lauded the ‘pathos of (its) high lyric tragedy’ and Halévy’s skill at recreating the fifteenth-century background of religious persecution with a minimum of detail. Halévy went on to show remarkable versatility as a composer, moving easily between opéra comique with L’éclair (‘The Brief Meeting’, 1835) or Le lazzarone (‘The Vagabond’, 1844) and grand opéra with Guido et Ginevra (1838) or Charles VI (1844). Although Berlioz believed that he was at his best in light opera, Halévy was one of the most important proponents of French grand opéra.
In this tenor aria from Act IV of Halévy’s La juive, the Jewish goldsmith Eléazar sings of his fearful dilemma: should he let his daughter Rachel die at the hands of her persecutor Cardinal de Brogni, or should he save her by revealing that she is, in reality, de Brogni’s daughter?
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