The Big Bad Wolf is prowling Albuquerque.
Forgive the confusion of fairy tales; specifically, the villain is a werewolf.
Opéra Sud-Ouest will stage “Le Loup-garou” by composer and poet Louise Bertin on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 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 terrorizes the villagers and their cattle. Or is it a werewolf? It could be the fiancé of a young orphan shepherdess. Superstition, class issues and mistaken identity intertwine in a festive comedy where love ends up triumphing.
“Le Loup-garou” was one of the first operas written by a woman to be produced by professionals. Bertin draws his story from the book of the same name written by Sir Walter Scott. It was created in 1827 in Paris.
Opera Southwest artistic director and conductor Anthony Barrese discovered the piece after doing an online search for female composers.
“I had never heard of her,” he said in a telephone interview from Chicago, adding that he had found the work in a German manuscript. He then discovered a Ph.D. thesis on Louise Bertin.
“She came from a very wealthy family,” Barrese said. “She was what they would call an invalid. She wrote an opera on “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” by Victor Hugo. He wrote the libretto.
The music for “The Werewolf” sounds like 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 been trying for a long time to produce works that think outside the box,” he added.
Bertin’s father owned an important newspaper, the Journal des Débats, which employed a fiery music critic by the name of Hector Berlioz, who was to become an acclaimed Romantic composer. Bertin had a physical disability which affected his ability to walk or stand for periods of time, so his father hired Berlioz to direct rehearsals for his fourth (and final) opera “La Esmeralda”.
Hugo wrote the libretto based on “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”.
But this provoked a fierce reaction from the French public, who believed that Berlioz must be the real composer. Bertin also endured criticism for his brother’s ties to the French government’s opera administration. These claims were vehemently denied by Berlioz, Hugo and the Bertin family, but nevertheless drew widespread criticism which culminated in riots at the seventh performance of “La Esmeralda”.
Subsequently, the Paris tour of “La Esmeralda” was canceled and Bertin ended his career as an opera composer in frustration at the age of 31.
Berlioz hailed her as “a writer and musician of great distinction and one of the most intelligent women of our time”.