There are a number of operas that have fallen out of the main operatic repertory that have overtures that merit attention, but which are rarely performed, even in the concert hall. Here are few that deserve an occasional hearing.
Daniel François Esprit Auber (1782-1881) was the composer of many successful French operas that gradually faded from the stage after his death. He was also the Director of the Paris Conservatoire from 1842 until his death. His 1828 opera La muette de Portici (The mute girl of Portici) aka Masaniello after its hero is the only opera I know of whose title character is incapable of making a sound. It was the beginning of the French Grand Opera tradition. The opera is occasionally revived. Its overture is a muscular and energetic piece that deserves a place in the concert repertoire. La muette de Portici Overture
Auber’s most popular opera was Fra Diavolo (1830). Loosely based on the career of the Italian guerilla leader Michele Pezza, it was in the standard operatic repertory for most of the 19th century. It is now only rarely staged. Its overture is a bouncy and energetic effort. Fra Diavolo Overture Auber’s overture to Le cheval de bronze (The bronze horse,1835) is in the same style as the one just presented; though I think it is the weaker of the two. La Cheval Bronze Overture
Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots is likely his best opera. Its brief overture is very effectively built around “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It runs directly into the first act. Les Huguenots Overture
L’ajo nell’imarazzo (The tutor in trouble) is an opera buffa that owes a lot to Rossini It was the first Donizetti opera to reach audiences outside of Italy. The overture is a sprightly, but slight affair, that does not stick in the memory. L’ajo nell’imbarazzo Overture The same composer’s Ugo, Conte di Parigi was premiered at La Scala in 1832 just two months before the first appearance of L’elisir d’amore. Its obscure plot led to its rapid demise even though some of the music was pleasing. Its overture is no more than workmanlike. Ugo Conte di Parigi Overture
Maria di Rohan is one of Donizetti’s finest scores. It is closer to Verdi than bel canto. It deserves more performances than it gets. One of Donizetti’s last works, it was first performed in Vienna in 1843. The opera is so good that I may come back to it in the future. It has a big and very dramatic overture. Maria di Rohan Overture
Roberto Devereux has come back from near oblivion. It was written for the San Carlo in Naples where it first appeared in 1837. It’s part of the Three Queens Trilogy. The Met gave it for the first time last season. It has one of Donizetti’s best overtures – good enough to be on a concert program. Roberto Devereux Overture
Verdi’s Attila is best known for Ezio’s declaration: ‘Avrai tu l’universo, resta l’Italia a me’ (You can have the universe, but leave Italy for me) which drove Italians to frenzy during the years before unification. It was first performed in Venice in 1846. It’s one of Verdi’s weakest scores, but its prelude is a gem. Three and a half minutes of beauty. Attila Prelude