19th Century French Opera

Opera in 19th-century France showed some characteristics that were different from the Italian.  French grand opera treated historical subjects and was an art form of excess.  The stage sets were grandiose, casts were very large, and the libretti were generally of great length.  The entire text was sung.  The chorus and ballet were extensively used as in earlier French operaMeyerbeer, a German, was the most important composer in this form.

During the early part of the century there was a marked distinction between grand opera and "opéra comique," but as Romanticism matured, the two styles merged into one"Opéra comique" was generally distinguished from grand opera by use of some spoken dialogue instead of a continuous musical texture.  Generally it was simpler in musical expressiveness, used fewer characters, and compared with earlier French opera, relied very little on the chorus.

In the French lyric opera the theatrical aspect and the simple forms of "opéra comique" were combined with virtuosity and drama of the grand opera.  A particular trait in all French opera was the ballet, and it became even more important during the Romantic era.  There was unity of dramatic action with the music that was seldom found in the Italian style.  There was also less virtuosity with more emphasis on the lyric quality of melody.  Moreover, French Romantic opera rarely displayed the intensity and passion of either the Italian or the German but was more conservative in its music and in its dramatic content.

(see Opera)