Beyond Prima Donna: Pauline Viardot’s Collaboration on Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète, Gounod’s Sapho, and Berlioz’s Arrangement of Orphée
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Prima donnas of the nineteenth century enjoyed celebrity status and were the wealthiest women of their time. Mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot’s (1821–1910) diva status provided her with a platform from which to share the full extent of her musical abilities. Viardot’s capabilities as a performer are widely acknowledged and reviewed throughout history; however, her contributions to French music beyond simply singing are only beginning to be understood. Her Thursday night salon promoted the music of both established and unknown composers, and hosted important guests, including Alfred de Musset, George Sand, Charles Dickens, Charles Gounod, Frédéric Chopin, and Franz Liszt. Viardot’s musical talents were respected and utilized in the premieres of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Le prophète (1849), Charles Gounod’s Sapho (1851), and Hector Berlioz’s revision of Gluck’s Orphée (1859). Through her salon and collaboration with composers, Viardot shaped the careers of others, contributing in a broader sense to the trajectory of French music of the nineteenth century. This thesis uses manuscript scores, musical analyses of the operas, letters, and other primary source documents to argue that Viardot was an essential collaborator in her relationships with Meyerbeer, Gounod, and Berlioz, and that she was integral to their various successes as opera composers. Chapter One surveys the relevant literature used for researching this thesis. Chapter Two provides a biographical sketch of Viardot which contextualizes how she learned collaboration from her family, and then used her salon as a way to implement this skill through the promotion of young composers. Chapters Three, Four, and Five turn to an analyses of her roles in Le prophète (Fidès), Sapho (Sapho), and Orphée (Orphée) in order to establish her relationship to the composers, how plot adaptations were devised to highlight her acting abilities, and how musical adaptations featured her vocal talents. These chapters will show how Viardot played a role in the musical alterations of these works. Through this analysis, this thesis highlights Viardot’s contributions to the careers of these men and ultimately the musical life of nineteenth-century France.
Table of Contents
Introduction and literature review -- The social and artistic networks of Pauline Viardot -- Giacomo Meyerbeer and Le Prophete: Viardot's constructive collaboration -- Charles Goundo and Sapho: Collaboration and friendship -- Hector Berlioz and Orphee: counsel and collaboration and concealment -- Reflections on collaboration
M.M. (Master of Music)