Opera Profile: Meyerbeer’s Masterpiece ‘Le Prophète’

By David Salazar

Of all of Meyerbeer’s greatest opera, “Le Prophète” likely reigns supreme above them all.

The opera, which had its world premiere in Paris on April 16, 1849, features the richest and most complex characters of the composer’s oeuvre.

While the work has never had the prominence of “Robert le Diable” or “Les Huguenots,” it is bound for a major revival with the ongoing Meyerbeer renaissance underway.

Short Plot Summary

Berthe and her future mother-in-law Fidès head for the castle of the Count of Oberthal to ask permission for the former to marry her beloved Jean. They run into three Anabaptists who excite the crowds into a social revolution. They are stopped by the Count himself who is struck by Berthe’s beauty and refuses her request to marry Jean.

The Anabaptists try to recruit Jean as their leader, but he only wants to live for his beloved Berthe. The Count demands that Berthe be returned to him. After he takes her away, Jean decides to join the Anabaptists in overthrowing the Count.

Jean is made a prophet and the Anabaptist group participates in murdering and capturing the rich. The Count enters the Anabaptist camp in disguise to try and figure out a plan to stop them but is ultimately discovered and sentenced to death. He tells Jean that Berthe escaped his clutches and Jean, who is wary of the violence, spares his life.

Berthe and Fidès are reunited. Fidès explains that her son was murdered by the Anabaptists and Berthe decides to assassinate the prophet.

During Jean’s coronation ceremony, Fidès recognizes her son and publicly makes the claim to be his mother. Everyone thinks he has been anointed by God and is confused by her claim. Jean tells his followers to kill him if Fidès makes the claim again. She retracts her statement.

The Anabaptists decide to turn over Jean to the Imperial forces. Jean is reunited with his mother and promises to stop being a prophet. He is reunited with Berthe and they dream of their future together. However, when she realizes that he is the prophet, Berthe kills herself.

At a banquet in his honor, Jean, the Anabaptists, his mother, and the Imperial forces all die when the hall collapses from an explosion.

Famous Musical Numbers

The opera’s most famous passage is the coronation march, which is often showcased at commencement ceremonies or other such processions at major institutions.

Watch and Listen

Easily one of the finest recordings of this opera, Nicolai Gedda stars alongside Marilyn Horne as Fidès.


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