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On 4 April 1847, the Gran Teatre del Liceu established by Miguel Garriga, opened its doors with a very diverse programme. Anna Bolena by Donizetti was one of the major events here. In 1861, the theatre caught fire. It was rebuilt one year later to become the true rival of the old Santa Gran Teatre. At the end of the 19th century, the Liceu became the venue where people came to see and be seen; which is why the shows were performed with the house lights left on.
The work of national composers was rarely performed. However, among them were several highly esteemed composers, including GURIDI, ARRIETA and BRETON. The great French operas did not take hold quite as quickly as the Italian repertoire. It was in 1851 that Robert le diable was performed. Enthusiasm for MEYERBEER reached its peak with the performance of the play Les Huguenots in 1856; he is one of the most frequently performed composers in the history of the Liceu. This fascination of the public for the French repertoire grew with the performances of GOUNOD’s Faust in 1864 which was considered, with its 26 consecutive performances, as the last word in opera. At the end of the 19th century, the Liceu was one of the leading opera houses in Europe. Verdi was performed there, as were the great French operas, and national composers such as Felip PEDRELL and Wagner. Die Walküre caused a sensation and the house lights of the Liceu were put out for the first time.
The performance of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov on 20 November 1915 marked the beginning of a period of splendour for Russian opera at the Liceu. When the second republic was proclaimed in 1931, political instability led to a serious financial crisis which badly affected the Liceu. During the civil war, the Liceu was nationalised and took the name “Gran Teatre del Liceu”. Its seasons were later suspended.
The activities of the Liceu began again in 1939 under the aegis of the Spanish and German authorities, subject to the propaganda of the Third Reich. Wagner was the most frequently performed composer during this period. In 1955, for the first time in its history, the Festival of Bayreuth was held at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Germany felt the need to make up for its recent past. Barcelona was an obvious choice, given its longstanding Wagnerian tradition and the authoritarian regime that kept away any hostile element.
On 31 January 1994, the Liceu was once again destroyed by fire and it was rebuilt on the same site. The new building opened in 1999 offering great artistic and technological quality whilst respecting the former décor which had been reproduced. Its stage allows two or three performances at the same time with maximum visibility and an improved acoustic quality.
LE BAL MASQUE - A POLITICAL OPERA.
If you like your opera with a touch of politics then you will enjoy Le bal masqué. This opera was composed by Giuseppe Verdi with a libretto by Antonio Somma and was premiered in Rome in 1859. The opera is based on the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, although the final version had to undergo several changes because of censorship and the tense political situation in France.
Le bal masqué revolves around political conspiracy and unrequited love; both strands becoming entwined.
The long first act of Le bal masqué opens at the court of King Gustavo of Sweden; he is reviewing a list of guests for his masked ball. Gustavo is in love with Amelia, the wife of Count Anckarstrom and is happy to see that she is a guest. When the Count arrives he tries to warn the King of trouble in his kingdom but Gustavo will not listen. A magistrate asks King Gustavo to banish Madame Arvidson, a fortune teller accused of witchcraft but she is defended by Oscar, the King's page. To test the accusation the King calls upon his courtiers to disguise themselves ready to meet at her lodgings. Amelia arrives to see Madame Arvidson and the disguised King hides. From his hiding place he hears Amelia profess his love for him and the problems this is causing her. The fortune teller advises her to collect a magical herb. King Gustavo and his courtiers present themselves to the fortune teller and their fortunes are read. Madame Arvidson prophesies that the King will be killed by the next man to shake his hand, who turns out to be Count Anckarstrom.
It is now the middle of the night and Amelia bravely visits the forest to pick her herbs. King Gustavo surprises her and they declare their love for each other; but suddenly the Count arrives and Amelia veils her face to hide from her husband. The Count tells the King that conspirators are looking for him and his life is in danger. As the King flees he asks Count Anckarstrom to escort the veiled lady back to the town. The Count has to fight the conspirators and in the struggle Amelia´s face is revealed. Count Anckarstrom immediately thinks the worst. He confers with the leaders of the conspiracy and they agree to meet the following day.
Count Anckarstrom threatens to kill Amelia. She pleads her innocence and begs to see her son one more time. The Count relents and decides Gustavo must die instead. When the conspirators arrive they ask Amelia to draw lots to see who will kill the King and the Count is chosen. They decide that the masked ball, Le bal masqué, will be the perfect place for an assasination. At the ball the King is seen resolving to be strong and deciding to send Amelia and the Count away from court but the Count finds and stabs King Gustavo. As he lies dying he declares that Amelia did not break her marriage vows although he loves her. He bids farewell to his friends and his country and dies.
Gustavo: King of Sweden.
Amelia: wife of Count Anckarstrom.
Count Ankarstrom: one of Gustavo's courtiers.
Oscar: Gustavo's page.
Madame Arvidson: a fortune teller, accused of witchcraft.
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