If you’re like most opera fans—you started listening to opera after World War I—you may be less familiar with the works of the Frenchman, Jules Massenet. Peter van de Graaff, one of WFMT’s biggest authorities on all things opera means to change that.
On Tuesday, in a special Fine Arts Circle membership drive broadcast, Peter sits down for a live show with Suzanne Nance to cook up a luscious feast of music by Massenet. The broadcast begins at 8:00 pm. Special thank you gifts await your call.
Here’s a little Massenet Q and A with Peter van de Graaff:
Most people don’t know the operas of Massenet. Are you a particular fan? Which works?
Massenet was, along with Bizet and Gounod, the great French opera composer of the late 19th century. I consider him one of my two or three favorite opera composers.
Did Massenet write ballet music in his operas?
The best known ballet music comes from Le Cid, but many of his operas have some ballet music, as that was a requirement for anything performed at the Opéra in Paris.
People know the meditation from Thaïs from all the arrangements. What is that piece about? Was it originally sung?
There is an off-stage chorus with it. It is an interlude meant to depict the conversion of the courtesan Thaïs to Christianity.
What sort of stories was he drawn to?
There always has to be something absolutely compelling about the women in Massenet’s operas. All of the other characters are appendages to what they go through (with the exception of the all-male opera Le jongleur de Notre Dame).
Has Massenet been widely recorded by the great singers? Favorites?
Yes—many, many great artists, primarily from the “golden age” of singing recorded Massenet arias. He went through a period of neglect between about WWI and only the last decade. He was considered old-fashioned and too “pretty”, but audiences, artists and companies are now realizing his genius and the power of his operas. Renée Fleming is the artist who, it seems to me, has the perfect Massenet voice with richness and expressivity.