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The Sunday Opera: Gustav Charpentier's "Louise"

We’re showcasing another relatively forgotten opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/10 3:00 p.m.) but one that was incredibly popular when it premiered in 1900. About the only thing that’s remembered about Gustav Charpentier’s “Louise” is one aria for the title character titled “Depuis le jour” that appears on many operatic collections and in many concerts. However, Charpentier was attempting something Interesting in “Louise” that has been called a “musical novel” which is more concerned with its musical form than its content. Indeed, Charpentier tried extremely hard to include Paris as one of the work’s characters in order to paint his musical picture.

There is, slight though it may be, a plot, and this lack of a “robust” plot is often held against the piece. However, Charpentier’s music is simply glorious.

Louise (Beverly Sills) is a seamstress who has fallen in love with her neighbor Julien (Nicolai Gedda) to the objections of her parents (Mignon Dunn, Jose Van Dam). Julien begs Louise to run away with him, but she explains that she loves her parents too much. However, Louise’s love for Julien grows too strong, and after she’s teased at the dressmaking shop where she works, she decides that she’s had enough of her controlling parents and quietly runs away with Julien.

Louise and Julien lead an Idyllic life in Montmartre until her mother appears and tells Louise that her father is extremely ill and cannot work any longer. Julien tells Louise that she is free to go home to look after her father if she promises to return to him.

Back in her parents’ home, Louise’s father has made a remarkable recovery, and she is thrust back into her position as a go-between or pet to her parents which she resents. One evening, she hears a merry waltz outside of the house and begins to madly sing along with it. Her father is infuriated that she still wants to be with Julien and attacks her, but Louise’s mother intercedes, and Louise takes the opportunity to run out of the house and back to Julien, leaving her father to curse Paris for stealing his daughter.

Julius Rudel is the conductor on this recording from 1970, and he’s leading the Chorus and Orchestra of the Paris opera and the Maitrise de la Resurrection.

After the opera, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in more of Charpentier’s music with a recording of another forgotten piece, his Impressions d'Italie, a symphonic suite conducted here by Pierre Dervaux leading the Opera Comique Orchestra.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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