The Lyric Stage: Jan. 13 - Highlights from Mendelssohn's "Camacho's Wedding"

Jan 13, 2019

Camacho's Wedding may well be "the most brilliant opera written by a youthful composer," brilliant and inspired music, but "an opera to be seen with your eyes closed." So says the Belgian conductor Jos van Immerseel about Camacho's Wedding, Felix Mendelssohn's 1827 opera in two acts. Friedrich Voigt gets credit for the libretto, which is based on an episode in Cervantes's Don Quixote. It is one of the two full length operas Mendelssohn wrote, to go along with four finished, one acts, all completed before he was 20 years old. It premiered in April of 1827, his only opera to be publically performed in his lifetime. It was a disaster for the 18 year old composer. In spite of friendly audience reaction, Mendelssohn did not like the performance and left in the middle of the second act, and cancelled further performances. Some reviews were harsh, and a few were even anti-semitic, and the experience soured him on both opera and journalism.

No one has paid much attention to Camacho's Wedding since that first performance. There was a performance in 1852 and again in 1987, so when Jos van Immerseel says it is "an opera to be seen with your eyes closed," his point is to underline the reason for the opera's neglect, the libretto. The story is about a young women in love with a young man but betrothed by her father to an old man. It's the same story dozens if not hundreds of other operas have used, and not a very good take on the worn out plot at that. That is what has consigned the opera to oblivion. von Immerseel feels that even seeing a good staging "would not add that much" to the enjoyment of the music. So he says - ignore the story and listen to what he thinks "...may well be the most brilliant opera written by a youthful composer." And since this is radio, you don't even have to close your eyes to listen.