Fromental Halévy 1799–1862
Opera in 5 acts
Libretto by Eugène Scribe
First performed February 23 1835, Opéra Le Peletier, Paris
Sung in French with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin
there's a chamber music concert on June 9th, inspired by this work
A divided society tries to settle its inner conflicts. What they need is: a collective enemy.
Constance at the time of the Council of 1414: Jewish goldsmith Éléazar had the audacity to work on a catholic feast day, so the people want to drown him and his adoptive daughter Rachel in the lake. They're saved by Leopold Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, who's secretly in love with Rachel. When Leopold ends the relationship Rachel publicly accuses him of fornication, which results in Cardinal Brogni sentencing Leopold, Eleazar and Rachel to death, ignorant of the fact that he's actually Rachel’s father …
Fromental Halevy believed that art should be dedicated to the great, beautiful and the good, but raise political questions too. He was the first composer to bring a realistic portrayal of Jewish life to the operatic stage in this work. The historical meaning of the Council of Constance, which resulted in the Catholic church ending the schism and having critics burned at the stake, gave Halevý the chance to mirror the world he lived in: liberal and reactionary powers were at loggerheads in France in the 1830s; Jews might have won legal equality but still faced anti-Semetic hostility in everyday life. Then, as today, the question is how a heterogenic society and tolerant co-existence is possible.
Even in the overture Halvey's score contains lyric moments which suddenly turn into destructive cascades of sound. A collective spiral of violence develops, whose blind hatred is finally directed against their own children.