Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber (1782-1871) was long considered one of the most typically French as well as one of the most successful of the opera composers of the 19th century. Although musically gifted, he initially chose commerce as a career, but soon realized that his future lay in music. He studied under Cherubini, and it was not long before his opera-comique La Bergere Chateleine (1820), written at the age of 38, established him as an operatic composer. Perhaps the greatest turning point in Auber's life was his meeting with the librettist Eugene Scribe (1791-1861), with whom he developed a long and illustrious working partnership that ended only with Scribe's death. Success followed success; works such as Le Macon (1825) and La Muette de Portici (1828) brought Auber public fame and official recognition. In 1829 he was appointed a member of the Institut, in 1839 Director of Concerts at Court, in 1842 Director of the Conservatoire, in 1852 Musical Director of the Imperial Chapel, and in 1861 Grand Officer of the Legion d'Honneur. Auber seems to have been fated to live in revolutionary times; during his long life no less than four revolutions took place in France (1789, 1830, 1848, 1870). Auber's famous historical grand opera La Muette de Portici (also known by its hero's name as Masaniello) is perhaps unsurprisingly based on revolution, depicting the 1647 Neapolitan uprising against Spanish rule. It is a key work in operatic history, and has a revolutionary history itself: it was a performance of this work in Brussels in 1830 that helped spark the revolution that led to the separation of Belgium from Holland. It was a revolution that hastened Auber's death at the old age of 89. He died on 12 May 1871 as a result of a long illness aggravated by the privations and dangers of the Siege of Paris. He had refused to leave the city he had always loved, even after his house had been set on fire by the petroleurs et petroleuses. In a twist of fate, a mark had been placed on the house of the composer of Masaniello, the very voice of Romantic liberty! Auber's overtures were once instantly recognizable, favourites of the light Classical repertoire. His gracious melodies and dance rhythms had a huge influence, both on piano and instrumental music, and on the genre of Romantic comic opera, especially in Germany. Musical tastes and fashions have changed, and contemporary audiences are more accustomed to the heavier fare of verismo, high Wagnerian ideology, and twentieth-century experimentalism. The operas themselves, apart from Fra Diavolo (1830), are seldom performed, yet Auber's elegant, delicate and restrained art remains as appealing to the discerning listener as ever it was. Le Domino noir, an opera-comique in three acts, with libretto by Eugene Scribe, was premiered at the Opera-Comique (Salle de la place de la Bourse/Salle des Nouveautes) on 2 December 1837. It was an instant success, and remained hugely popular. The music is employed with economy, mellifluous, but pared and pointed. Its wit and elements of parody look forward to Jacques Offenbach. The action takes place in Madrid, around 1780; Angele, a noblewoman who is about to take solemn vows and become the Abbess of a convent at the behest of the Queen of Spain, nonetheless still attends masked balls, disguised in a black domino. At one of the balls she falls in love with the handsome and eligible Horace de Massarena, who is equally smitten. Horace attends the installation of the new abbess and sees Angele about to receive this great honour. Suddenly a messenger from the Queen of Spain appears, ordering the convent to select a new abbess and releasing Angele from her vows. She and Horace are now free to marry. The libretto is one of the best from the great dramatist. The choice of subject, characterized as it was by ideas current at the time of its creation-the emancipated view of womanhood and the daring treatment of religious themes-was felt by the middle of the 19th century not to be in the best taste. However, the unconventional daring and single-mindedness of the fashionable heroine becomes a kind of celebration of feminine independence and resourcefulness. The evocation of a gracious high society and the enterprising servanthood of the opera-comique tradition, as well as the tender, romanticized evocation of the convent and religious life, invest the whole with the aura of an urban pastoral. Le Domino noir was celebrated for its lightness, elegance and wit, the libretto and music complementing each other perfectly in realizing a masterpiece of this genre. This is Auber's most original opera-comique, the one in which he most fully abandoned himself to charming fantasy and melodic grace. Nearly all the pieces became popular. The overture, which is perfect in itself, presents the context of the romance, and sketches the elusive charm of the heroine. This work was more popular in Paris than Fra Diavolo: the 1000th performance took place in 1882, the 1209th in 1909. Between 1838 and 1845 translations were made into German, English, Russian, Danish, Czech, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and Swedish, with later versions in Finnish, Croatian, Polish and Norwegian. In more recent times there were performances in Paris (ORTF, 1950, 1965), London (Opera Viva, 1979) and Compiegne (2006). This edition reproduces the vocal score published in Paris by E. Troupenas (1837).
About the Author: Robert Ignatius Letellier has specialized in the music and literature of the Romantic Period. He has studied the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to research, two readings of the operas, as well as compiling and introducing editions of the complete libretti and non-operatic texts, and a selection of manuscripts facsimiles). He has also written on the ballets of Ludwig Minkus, compiled a series of scores on the Romantic Ballet, and produced studies of the opera-comique and Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber.