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Grand opéra in five acts
Libretto by Eugène Scribe
1st performance of reconstructed original edition February 2 2013, Theater Chemnitz
1st performance of François-Joseph Fétis' edition April 28 1865, Opéra, Paris
Sung in French with English & German surtitles
ca. 4 hours, including 2 intervals
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance
Rossini, Halévy and Giacomo Meyerbeer wrote Grand opéra for Paris in the 1830s. In Germany the genre and its protagonist fell into disrepute through Richard Wagner's poisonous polemic. One and a half centuries later Meyerbeer is enjoying a renaissance. The exotic story is about the discoverer Vasco da Gama, whose desire to find previously unknown of parts of the earth and conquer them for Portugal was insatiable. After he returned to Portugal with two captives, Nelusko and Selika, after being shipwrecked in a failed attempt to round the Cape of Good Hope, the council of the admiralty refused to allow another expedition. The Grand Inquisitor has him thrown into prison for blasphemy. Ines, who loves him and is loved by him, can only free him by agreeing to marry his rival Don Pedro, who is commissioned to embark on a voyage of discovery. Vasco follows him with his own ship. When they reached land the Portugese were overpowered by the natives. Their lives are in danger. Then Selika, the former slave and now reinstated queen of her people, saves him by saying that Vasco is her husband. But she knows he still loves Ines. She renounces her love for him, helps them both to escape and commits suicide.
Impressive choral tableaux, epic dimensions, virtuoso arias and ensembles and orchestral effects characterise the genre, to which Verdi also turned his hand. Meyerebeer and his librettist Eugène Scribe busied themselves with the story of L'Africaine for almost 30 years but it was never finished. It was first performed in 1864, a year after Meyerbeer's death, in an edition by François-Joseph Fétis and was performed all over the world. It was not until 2013 that Theater Chemnitz used Meyerbeeer's original manuscript as the basis for a rediscovery - under the title of Vasco de Gama. The first ever performances of the work in Frankfurt, directed by Tobias Kratzer using this reconstructed original edition, are under the original title of »L'Africaine«.