Grand opéra (Fr.)
- M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet
French opera of the Romantic period, sung throughout, generally in five acts, grandiose in conception and impressively staged.
A grand style was frequently considered essential for works written for the Paris Opéra. Even in Lully’s day contemporaries occasionally referred to tragédies en musique as ‘grands opéras’, although librettists and composers preferred designations underlining the literary genre in lyric setting. It was not until the early 19th century, however, that the term ‘grand opéra’ became current. Castil-Blaze, for example, defined it as sung throughout (in contrast to opéra comique, which had spoken dialogue) and performed at the Opéra: in his opinion, Gluck, Piccinni and Spontini were the masters of the genre, which required nobility of subject and of tone. The librettist Jouy concurred, but also argued for an expansion to five acts and for plots drawn from heroic historical events as well as from other more conventional sources. By the 1830s ‘grand opéra’ had entered common parlance and was applied to the repertory then dominant – no longer by Gluck and his contemporaries, but by Rossini, Auber, Halévy and, above all, Meyerbeer. Modern scholars usually follow this latter, more restrictive practice, but on the scores and librettos themselves only ‘opéra’ (or occasionally ‘opéra historique’) normally appears....