Composer Profile: Giacomo Meyerbeer, The Most Successful Stage Composer of the 19th Century

By David Salazar

Giacomo Meyerbeer is one of the most influential composers of all time. Such noted composers as Verdi, Wagner, Berlioz, Massenet, Donizetti, Halevy, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Thomas, Liszt, and Chopin, among others, came under his spell at one point or another in their respective careers.

And yet, Meyerbeer’s works are often neglected in the modern era.

Born on Sept. 5, 1791, as Jacob Liebmann Beer, he began his musical career as a pianist but was already involved in opera by the time he was 33. By the age of 40, he was already a celebrity and the toast of Paris. His popularity was so immense that many have gone so far as to call him the most successful composer of the 19th century. His influence was so great that he helped Wagner mount his production of “Rienzi.”

The composer’s fame would eventually dwindle after his death, many of his works largely forgotten. His final opera, “L’Africaine” managed its world premiere after the composer’s death in 1864.

Major Works

Meyerbeer’s legacy, unfortunately, has been a shaky one. While he established the potency of Grand Opera through such works as “Robert Le Diable,” “Les Huguenots,” and “Le Prophète,” he was unable to withstand the ardent vitriol aimed at him from Richard Wagner and his supporters. Subsequent rule all but exterminate them from the repertoire.

As a result, the composer became an increasing rarity throughout the 20th century and into the start of the 21st.

That said, his star seems to be in ascension and many of his works, such as “Les Huguenots,” “Robert le Diable,” “Le Prophète” and “L’Africaine” are getting an increasing number of revivals. His works are massive to be sure but full of rich melodic invention and complexity of themes.

Read More on Meyerbeer

4 Operas By Meyerbeer You Must Listen To

Read more about Soprano Diana Damrau’s Love Affair With the Composer

How Eugène Scribe Inspired Meyerbeer

Watch and Listen 

Here are recordings of two of his greatest operas. First up is “Les Huguenots,” followed by “Le Prophète.”


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