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Work

Johann Christian Bach

Johann Christian Bach Composer

Amadis des Gaule (tragédie lyrique), W.G29

Performances: 6
Tracks: 81
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Musicology:
  • Amadis des Gaule (tragédie lyrique), W.G29
    Year: 1779
    Genre: Opera
    Pr. Instruments: Voice & Orchestra
Amadis de Gaules was the only opera that Johann Christian Bach ever wrote for the French stage. It premiered at the Paris Opéra on December 14, 1779, to lukewarm reviews and an indifferent public. It is, however, one of the composer's most ambitious, dramatic, and interesting works. Part of the reason for the hostility to it on the part of the critics and public was the ongoing feud between those who favored the French operatic tradition as embodied in the works of Gluck, and those known as Piccinists, because of their championing of the Italian composer Piccini. The management of the Italian Opera commissioned a work from Johann Christian Bach, probably thinking that because he composed in the "Italian" style, his work would add fuel to the controversy. But Bach studied the singing and declamation style of the French before beginning to compose his work, and chose a traditionally French subject to set for his introduction to the theaters of Paris. The story of Amadis de Gaules is an old French romance, and was originally turned into a magic opera by Philippe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Lully. Although much of Bach's score is Italianate, it is obvious that he took French traditions into account when writing his opera. There are extensive ballets, choral tableaux, and divertissements in each act. He uses descriptive orchestral music to create atmosphere and effective characterizations. The score to Amadis contains some of Bach's most adventurous harmonies and orchestrations along with a wealth of aria forms, including the French ariette, and magical elements, such as demons, ghosts, and divinities. The recitative is given more dramatic prominence than in his other operas, and is often richly accompanied. The result is an opera in which the orchestra and other non-vocal elements are extremely important, and are used to create a musically integrated dramatic whole. The result pleased almost no one. Bach returned to London, never to compose for the French stage again.

Alphonse-Denis-Marie de Vismes du Valgay adapted Quinault's libretto for Bach. He took the traditional prologue and five acts of the tragédie-lyrique and condensed it into a three-act work, in the style of the Italians. In order to do so he had to cut an important subplot. Because the Lully opera was so well known and loved by the French, tampering with it was guaranteed to draw fire from the critics. Quinault's libretto was thought of as a fine piece of dramatic literature. The revision was viewed as something of a travesty. However in merging French traditions such as the divertissement and ballet with Italian structures, Bach created one of his most formally imaginative operas.

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