Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) is roughly treated nowadays. But his operas did have a century long run which is far more than most composers for the stage get or can expect. And they still are occasionally performed. The best of them is likely Les Huguenots – premiered in 1836. Berlioz thought it an unqualified masterpiece. Perhaps the most important reason this opera is rarely staged is that it requires so many first rate singers. This is the same reason why there’s no wholly satisfactory recording of it.
The opera’s 4th act is universally admired. This act ends with a duet (O ciel! où courez vous) that is Verdian in ambition and accomplishment. It presages the passionate duet in the 2nd act of Un Ballo in Maschera. It’s theme is also similar – the conflict of passion versus duty. When American tenor Richard Leech won the Richard Tucker Award in 1988 he sang this duet at the foundation’s gala concert. I have a recording of this performance at the bottom of some pile or other of junk. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t know where it is. But it was the first time I had heard Leech. I was very impressed. His was a major talent. A beautiful voice sensitively phrased with ringing high notes. I was so impressed that I attended his Met debut shortly thereafter. He sang Rodolfo in La Boheme. He was not quite as good as he was at the gala, but he was still very impressive.
In 1988 he stepped into a Berlin performance of Les Huguenots as Raoul. He scored an enormous success. Here he is in the 4th act duet (in German) with the late Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar taken from a concert performance in Berlin in 1988. Les Huguenots Act 4 duet This excerpt begins a few minutes into the duet. When you hear Leech you’ll think this is the next great tenor. Of course, it didn’t happen. He sang 171 shows at the Met, last appearing there in 2004 when he was 47. His voice had steadily declined over the 15 years he sang at the Met – another brilliant start with an unsatisfactory and premature end. Regardless, enjoy the duet; it’s terrific.