The Big Bad Wolf is lurking in Albuquerque.
Forgive the fairy tale confusion; more accurately, the villain is a werewolf.
Opera Southwest will stage “Le Loup-garou (The Werewolf)” by composer/poet Louise Bertin on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9-11. This first production of the opera’s 50th anniversary season will be performed by singers from the Opera Southwest Apprentice Artist Program.
A wolf is terrorizing the villagers and their livestock. Or is it a werewolf? It could be the fiance of a young, orphaned shepherdess. Superstition, class issues and mistaken identity entangle in a celebratory comedy where love ultimately triumphs.
“Le Loup-garou” was one of the first operas written by a woman to be professionally produced. Bertin took its story line from the book of the same name written by Sir Walter Scott. It premiered in 1827 in Paris.
Opera Southwest artistic director and conductor Anthony Barrese discovered the piece after conducting an online search for women composers.
“I had never heard of her,” he said in a telephone interview from Chicago, adding he found the work in a German manuscript. He then discovered a Ph.D. thesis about Louise Bertin.
“She came from a very wealthy family,” Barrese said. “She was what they would call an invalid. She wrote an opera about Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ He wrote the libretto.”
The music to “Le Loup-garou” sounds similar to Barrese’s favorite composer Gioachino Rossini, he said.
“It’s your typical comic opera,” he added. “There are misunderstandings and this village has a werewolf haunting them.”
The dialogue is in English; the music is in French.
“I think it’s the perfect vehicle for young singers,” Barrese said.
“We’ve long tried to produce works that are off the beaten path, he added.
Bertin’s father owned an important newspaper, Journal des débats, that employed a feisty music critic by the name of Hector Berlioz, who would become a lauded Romantic composer. Bertin had a physical disability that affected her ability to walk or stand for periods of time, so her father hired Berlioz to run the rehearsals of her fourth (and final) opera “La Esmeralda.”
Hugo wrote the libretto based on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
But it engendered fierce backlash from French audiences, who believed that Berlioz must have been the true composer. Bertin also endured criticism for her brother’s connections to the French government’s opera administration. These claims were vehemently denied by Berlioz, Hugo and the Bertin family, but still caused widespread criticism that resulted in riots on the seventh performance of “La Esmeralda.”
Afterwards, the Parisian run of “La Esmeralda” was cancelled and Bertin ended her career as an opera composer in frustration at the age of 31.
Berlioz praised her as “a writer and a musician of considerable distinction and one of the most intelligent women of our time.”