Composer Profile: Louise Bertin, Composer of ‘La Esmeralda’

By Gillian Reinhard

Louise Angelique Bertin was born in Les Roches, France in 1805 and embarked on a career as an opera composer in nineteenth-century Paris.

Her work was closely tied to composer Hector Berlioz and author Victor Hugo. She is best remembered as the composer of “La Esmeralda,” an opera based on Hugo’s famous novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” Though Hugo, one of France’s most celebrated writers, inspired many operas , Bertin was the only composer to work directly with Hugo, who served as librettist of “La Esmeralda.”

Louise Bertin grew up in a well-connected family and was encouraged to pursue music. She studied with Belgian music critic François-Joseph Fétis. Under the tutelage of Fétis, Bertin composed her first opera, “Guy Mannering.” The opera premiered privately in a performance for the Bertin family in 1925 and was inspired by the works of Sir Walter Scott.

At the age of 22, Bertin’s second opera “Le Loup-garou” premiered at Paris’ Opéra-Comique in 1827. An opera semiseria “Fausto” (based on Goethe’s “Faust”) premiered in 1830, but only saw three performances after negative reviews.

Bertin was well-known in Parisian society for her close friendship with Victor Hugo. Together, they created the opera “La Esmeralda,” set to premiere in 1836. Hector Berlioz, another friend of Bertin, oversaw the staging of the work.

“La Esmeralda” was the most high-profile of Bertin’s operas and was met with fierce backlash from French audiences, who believed that Berlioz must have been the true composer. Bertin also received criticisms 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 prematurely ended and Bertin ended her career as an opera composer in frustration at the age of 31.

Beyond music, Bertin was a fan of poetry and literature, as evidenced by the inspirations for many of her operas. After her short career as a composer, she published two volumes of poetry in 1942 and 1876. Her collection of poetry, “Nouvelles Glanes” received recognition from the Académie française. Following this recognition, Bertin passed away a year later in Paris at the age of seventy-two.  

Famous Works

Bertin is most known for her final opera, “La Esmeralda,” which was recorded most recently by the Orchestre national de Montepellier in 2008. After her career as an opera composer, however, Bertin continued to compose, including twelve cantatas, six piano ballades, five chamber symphonies, three string quartets, a piano trio, and many pieces for voice. Only the ballades and piano trio were ever published. Composer Franz Liszt, who edited her score for “La Esmeralda,” transcribed selections from the opera.


Full opera, “La Esmeralda,” Orchestre National de Montpellier

“Ah dorse n paix mon bel enfant,” Suzanne Danco”

Selections from “La Esmeralda,” Atelier Lyrique de Franche-Comté



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