Fromental Halévy

Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy, usually known as Fromental Halévy (French: [fʁɔmɑ̃tal alevi]; 27 May 1799 – 17 March 1862), was a French composer. He is known today largely for his opera La Juive.

Fromental Halevy by Etienne Carjat-crop
Fromental Halévy (c. 1860–62), by Étienne Carjat

Early career

Halévy was born in Paris, son of the cantor Élie Halfon Halévy, who was the secretary of the Jewish community of Paris and a writer and teacher of Hebrew, and a French Jewish mother. The name Fromental (meaning 'oat grass'), by which he was generally known, reflects his birth on the day dedicated to that plant: 7 Prairial in the French Revolutionary calendar,[1] which was still operative at that time. He entered the Conservatoire de Paris at the age of nine or ten (accounts differ), in 1809, becoming a pupil and later protégé of Cherubini. After two second-place attempts, he won the Prix de Rome in 1819: his cantata subject was Herminie.

As he had to delay his departure to Rome because of the death of his mother, he was able to accept the first commission that brought him to public attention: a Marche Funèbre et De Profundis en Hébreu for three part choir, tenor and orchestra, which was commissioned by the Consistoire Israélite du Département de la Seine, for a public service in memory of the assassinated duc de Berry, performed on 24 March 1820.[2] Later, his brother Léon recalled that the De Profundis, "infused with religious fervor, created a sensation, and attracted interest to the young laureate of the institute".

Halévy was chorus master at the Théâtre Italien, while he struggled to get an opera performed. Despite the mediocre reception of L'artisan, at the Opéra-Comique in 1827, Halévy moved on to be chorus master at the Opéra. The same year he became professor of harmony and accompaniment at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he was professor of counterpoint and fugue in 1833 and of composition in 1840. He had many notable students. See: List of music students by teacher: G to J#Fromental Halévy.

La Juive

With his opera La Juive, in 1835, Halévy attained not only his first major triumph, but gave the world a work that was to be one of the cornerstones of the French repertory for a century, with the role of Eléazar one of the great favorites of tenors such as Enrico Caruso. The opera's most famous aria is Eléazar's "Rachel, quand du Seigneur". Its orchestral ritornello is the one quotation from Halévy that Berlioz included in his Treatise on Instrumentation, for its unusual duet for two cors anglais. It is probable, however, that this aria was inserted only at the request of the great tenor Adolphe Nourrit, who premiered the role and may have suggested the aria's text. La Juive is one of the grandest of grand operas, with major choruses, a spectacular procession in Act I and impressive celebrations in Act III. It culminates with the heroine plunging into a vat of boiling water in Act V. Mahler admired it greatly, stating: "I am absolutely overwhelmed by this wonderful, majestic work. I regard it as one of the greatest operas ever created". Other admirers included Wagner, who wrote an enthusiastic review of Halévy's grand operas for the German press in 1841 (Wagner never showed towards Halévy the anti-Jewish animus that was so notorious a feature of his writings on Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn).

Later career

Halévy was elected to the Institut de France in 1836, but after La Juive, his real successes were relatively few, although at least three operas, L'Éclair, La Reine de Chypre and Charles VI received some critical and popular acclaim. Heine commented that Halévy was an artist, but "without the slightest spark of genius". He became, however, a leading bureaucrat of the arts, becoming Secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and presiding over committees to determine the standard pitch of orchestral A, to award prizes for operettas, etc. The artist Eugène Delacroix described Halévy's decline in his diaries (5 February 1855):

I went on to Halévy’s house, where the heat from his stove was suffocating. His wretched wife has crammed his house with bric-a-brac and old furniture, and this new craze will end by driving him to a lunatic asylum. He has changed and looks much older, like a man who is being dragged on against his will. How can he possibly do serious work in this confusion? His new position at the Academy must take up a great deal of his time and make it more and more difficult for him to find the peace and quiet he needs for his work. Left that inferno as quickly as possible. The breath of the streets seemed positively delicious.[3]

Halévy's cantata Prométhée enchaîné was premiered in 1849 at the Paris Conservatoire and is generally considered the first mainstream western orchestral composition to use quarter tones.

Halévy died in retirement at Nice in 1862, aged 62, leaving his last opera Noé unfinished. It was completed by his former student Georges Bizet, but was not performed until ten years after Bizet's own death.


Halévy wrote some forty operas in all, including:

Halévy also wrote for the ballet, provided incidental music for a French version of Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound, and wrote cantatas.

Halévy's family

Halévy's wife, Léonie (sister of Eugénie Foa) who had experienced serious mental problems during their marriage, underwent a remarkable recovery after his death and became a talented sculptress (she was 20 years younger than he.) In 1869, their daughter Geneviève married the composer Georges Bizet, who had been one of Halévy's pupils at the Conservatoire. After Bizet's death and an alliance with Élie-Miriam Delaborde, the son of Charles-Valentin Alkan, Geneviève married a banker with Rothschild connections and became a leading Parisian salonnière. Amongst the guests at her soirées was the young Marcel Proust, who used her as one of the models for the Duchesse de Guermantes in his epic In Search of Lost Time.

Halévy's brother was the writer and historian Léon Halévy, who wrote an early biography of his brother and was the father of Ludovic Halévy, librettist of many French operas, including Bizet's Carmen and Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. Léon was also the father, by his mistress Lucinde Paradol, of the politician Lucien-Anatole Prévost-Paradol.


  • Bureau des Longitudes (ed.): Le Calendrier républicain (Paris: Bureau des Longitudes, 1989).
  • Conway, David: Jewry in Music: Entry to the Profession from the Enlightenment to Richard Wagner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); ISBN 978-1-107-01538-8.
  • Delacroix, Eugène (trans. Lucy Norton): The Journal of Eugène Delacroix: A Selection, ed. and introd. Hubert Wellington (3rd edn., London: Phaidon, 1995).
  • Halévy, Léon: F. Halévy, sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1863).
  • Jordan, Ruth: Fromental Halévy – His Life and Music, 1799–1862 (New York: Limelight Editions, 1996; and London: Kahn & Averill, 2006); ISBN 1-871-08251-X.
  • Macdonald, Hugh: "Halévy, Fromental", in: Grove Music Online (subscription access); Oxford Music Online, (accessed February 15, 2010).


  1. ^ Bureau des Longitudes (1989), 54
  2. ^ Conway (2011), 213.
  3. ^ Delacroix (1995),288–9.

External links

Charles VI (opera)

Charles VI is an 1843 French grand opera in five acts with music composed by Fromental Halevy and a libretto by Casimir Delavigne and his brother Germain Delavigne.

The number "Guerre aux tyrans!" ("War on the tyrants!") achieved separate fame as a song of political protest.


Clari is an opera semiseria in three acts by Fromental Halévy, to an Italian libretto by Pietro Giannone.

It was first produced at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris on 19 December 1828.

Clari was based on a popular novella, the storyline of which had already been set as an opera by Henry Bishop in London in 1823 (Clari, or the Maid of Milan – it included what came to be Bishop's most famous song, Home! Sweet Home!). There had also been a production of the story as Clari ou la promesse de mariage as a 'ballet-pantomime' in three acts at the Paris Opéra in 1820, with music by Rodolphe Kreutzer and designs by Cicéri and Louis Daguerre.

Guido et Ginevra

Guido et Ginevra, ou La Peste de Florence (French: Guido and Ginevra, or the Plague at Florence) is a grand opera in five acts by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Eugène Scribe. It was premiered on 5 March 1838 by the Paris Opera at the Salle Le Peletier.

Jaguarita l'Indienne

Jaguarita l'Indienne is a three-act opéra comique, to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Adolphe de Leuven, with music by Fromental Halévy.

The opera is somewhat satiric in its intentions, but the plot element of the love of an exotic queen for a European is also found in Meyerbeer's later opera L'Africaine.

An English version of the libretto, (moving the action to North America and substituting Oanita for Jaguarita) was set by Wallace in 1863 and produced at Covent Garden Theatre, under the title The Desert Flower.


L'artisan (The Craftsman) is an opéra comique by Fromental Halévy, to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

L'artisan was the first of Halévy's operas to be staged (Opéra-Comique, Paris, 30 January 1827). The trivial plot is set in a shipyard in Antibes. The opera was withdrawn after 14 performances and seems never to have been revived.


L'Éclair (The Lightning Flash) is an opéra comique in 3 acts by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

L'Éclair was premiered by the Paris Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse on 16 December 1835; Jacques Offenbach was a cellist in the orchestra. The opera was well received which placed Halévy in the unusual position of having two simultaneous successes on the Paris stage (the other being his grand opera masterpiece, La Juive).

It was first performed in the United States on 16 February 1837 at the Théâtre d'Orléans in New Orleans. It remained popular in the 19th century (Emma Calvé sang in it in 1885) and has been revived in modern times. Some of its arias (including the tenor aria 'Quand de la nuit') have been recorded.

La Juive

La Juive (French pronunciation: ​[la ʒɥiv]) (The Jewess) is a grand opera in five acts by Fromental Halévy to an original French libretto by Eugène Scribe; it was first performed at the Opéra, Paris, on 23 February 1835.

La reine de Chypre

La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is an 1841 grand opera in five acts composed by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

La tentation

La tentation is a "ballet-opera", a hybrid work in which both singers and dancers play major roles. It was premiered in 1832 in its original five-act form by the Paris Opéra at the Salle Le Peletier. Most of the music was by Fromental Halévy, and the libretto was by Edmond Cavé and Henri Duponchel. The choreography was by Jean Coralli, and the decor by a number of hands including Eduard Bertin, Eugène Lami, Camille Roqueplan and Paul Delaroche. After the first 29 performances, mostly separate acts were performed (either the first, second, or fourth) in conjunction with another work, although it was occasionally revived in its entirety in 1833, 1834, and 1835. In all, it was given complete 46 times, and as separate acts on 60 occasions.

Le Juif errant (opera)

Le Juif errant (The Wandering Jew) is a grand opera by Fromental Halévy, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

The opera is based extremely loosely on themes of the novel Le Juif errant, by Eugène Sue. Whilst the novel is set in 19th century Paris and the Wandering Jew is incidental to the main story-line, the opera begins in Amsterdam in 1190 and the Jew Ahasuerus (spelled Ashvérus in the opera) is a leading character.

Le Roi et le batelier

Le Roi et le batelier (The King and the oarsman) is a one-act opéra comique by Fromental Halévy and Victor Rifaut, to a libretto by Saint-Georges. It was first performed on 8 November 1827 at the Opéra Comique in Paris.

Le dilettante d'Avignon

Le dilettante d'Avignon (English: The Dilettante of Avignon) is an 1829 opéra comique in one act by Fromental Halévy, to a libretto by his brother Léon Halévy, based on an uncompleted work by François-Benoit Hoffmann. It was the composer's first popular success, since it was his first venture into opera after the relative failure in the previous year of Clari.

Le lazzarone

Le lazzarone, ou Le bien vient en dormant (The Lad from Naples, or Good comes from Sleeping) is an opéra in two acts with music by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. It was premiered on 29 March 1844 at the Paris Opéra.At the instruction of Léon Pillet, the director of the Opéra, the opera was written as a vehicle for his mistress Rosine Stoltz (who had recently borne him a child). After some severe critical reactions, the opera was not successful and has not been revived.

Le nabab

Le nabab is a three-act opéra comique by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Eugène Scribe.

The title refers to a Nawab or Indian notable. The opera was the last collaboration of Scribe and Halévy, which began in 1835 with La Juive, Halévy's greatest success. It premiered in Paris on 1 September 1853.

The opera had 38 performances and appears not to have been revived.

Le shérif

Le shérif (The Sheriff) is an opéra comique in three acts composed by Fromental Halévy to a libretto by Eugène Scribe. It was premiered by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse in Paris on 2 September 1839. Based on a short story by Balzac, the opera is set in the London Docklands during the late 18th century.

Le val d'Andorre

Le val d'Andorre (The Valley of Andorra) is an opéra comique by Fromental Halévy with a libretto by Saint-Georges.

Although today almost completely forgotten, it was one of Halévy's greatest successes, running for 165 performances and restoring the then precarious financial situation of the Opéra-Comique in Paris] where it was given its premiere on 11 November 1848.

Ludovic (opera)

Ludovic is a two act opéra comique to a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. The music, by Ferdinand Hérold, was left unfinished at his death, and the work was completed by Fromental Halévy.

The plot, elements of which were later reworked by Halévy and Saint-Georges in Le val d'Andorre (1847), centres on misplaced alliance, love, forced conscription, flight, pardon and marriage.

Chopin wrote a set of variations (opus 12, 1833) on the Act I aria "Je vends des Scapulaires" from Ludovic.

Noé (opera)

Noé (Noah) was the last opera of the composer Fromental Halévy.

The opera's libretto is by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, who had written the book for the composer's first opera to reach performance, L'artisan (1827). Noé is based on the biblical story of Noah.

Halévy worked on the opera during his last years (1858–1862), but left it unfinished after the Paris Opéra, which had scheduled it for the 1860 season, decided to postpone it after seeing the score of the first four acts. It was eventually completed by Halévy's son-in-law, Georges Bizet, who however was unable to persuade any theatre to put it on. Eventually it was premiered in Karlsruhe in 1885, ten years after Bizet's own death. It is sometimes known by the title suggested by Bizet, Le déluge (The Flood).

Opéra féerie

Opéra féerie (plural: opéras féeries) is a French genre of opera or opéra-ballet, often with elements of magic in their stories. Popular in the 18th century, from the time of Jean-Philippe Rameau onwards, the form reached its culmination with works such as La belle au bois dormant by Michele Carafa and Cendrillon by Nicolas Isouard at the beginning of the 19th century.

Examples of the genre include:

Zémire et Azor (1771), music by André Grétry

Cendrillon (1810) and Aladin ou la Lampe merveilleuse (1822), music by Nicolas Isouard, libretti by Charles-Guillaume Étienne

Zirphile et fleur de myrte ou cent ans en un jour (1818), music by Charles-Simon Catel, libretto by Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy and Nicolas Lefebvre

Le cheval de bronze (1835), music by Daniel Auber

La fée aux roses (1849), libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Eugène Scribe, music by Fromental Halévy, Paris, Théâtre de l'Opéra-Comique

La chatte blanche (1852) by the Frères Cogniard

Les amours du diable (1853), by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, music by Albert Grisar, Paris, Théâtre Lyrique

Le roi Carotte (1872) and Le voyage dans la lune (1875), music by Jacques Offenbach (the latter in collaboration with Victorien Sardou)

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