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Dante (Blau / Godard)

Date

1890.5.7

Description

Opera in four acts premiered at the Opéra-Comique (Paris) on 7 May 1890.

Text

Born in 1265 in Florence, Dante Alighieri was a poet and prominent political figure. Although he played an active role in safeguarding his city’s autonomy against papal ambitions, he is mainly known for his Divine Comedy, which tells of the descent into Hell and the slow ascent to Heaven by way of a long poetic journey. Godard’s opera, premiered in 1890, skilfully brings together political fact—crowd scenes in Florence and the quarrel between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines—and an expression of medieval courtly love. Although Gemma was originally a young woman forced to marry out of duty then abandoned, she becomes in Godard’s opera the confidante of Béatrice—the poet’s beloved—at the same time as her secret rival. However, the most remarkable aspect of this opera is the inclusion of a “Vision” which is more or less a synthesis of the Divine Comedy set to music. Act III therefore alternates between visions of Hell and Heaven, juxtaposing an Apparition de Virgile (Appearance of Virgil), Chœur de Damnés (Chorus of the Damned), Tourbillon infernal (Infernal Whirlwind), Divine Clarté (Divine Radiance) and Apothéose de Béatrice (Apotheosis of Béatrice). Godard is at the peak of his melodic inspiration and compositional skill in this work, writing in a style that fluctuates between Gounod and Massenet. The vocal quintet called for in this opera perfectly brings out the heroic and expressive potential of the singers, some of whom would have known Wagner and Verdi.