The legendary king of the opera Monte Carlo
Already 1893 became a historical year in the life of the Monte Carlo Opera. Among the nine new productions performed by Gunsburg in his first season, of course, the world premiere of the stage version of Berlioz’s dramatic legend “Condemnation of Faust”, held on February 18, was the most important. This production was proof of the outstanding talent and courage of the Gunsburg director. It is known that the plot of “Faust” is replete with all sorts of fantastic and mystical moments. Gunsburg masterfully used these motifs to create a spectacle that was magnificent in its technical achievements. In front of the audience, the scenery was transforming, inventive lighting created illusions of all kinds of visions and transformations. Everyone was literally shocked by the large choreographic scene of the seduction of Margarita, in which the famous Virginia Zucchi danced.But the hero of the premiere, of course, was Jan de Reshke in the role of Faust. However, other participants in the premiere (Emma D’Alba – Margarita, Leon Melchizedek – Mephistopheles) were at the level.
A major achievement of the next season (1894) was the premiere of Othello with Francesco Tamagno, who was first brought to the Monte Carlo Theater. In the future, the singer more than once sang in this theater, while receiving huge fees (6-7 thousand francs for the performance).
Among the world premieres of the first decade of Gunsburg’s activity in Monaco, one should dwell on the production of Jules Massenet’s opera “Our Lady Juggler” (1902). In total for Monte Carlo Massenet wrote five operas, including the famous Don Quixote (which is discussed below). The beginning was laid by the “Juggler.” I must say, Gunsburg worshiped Massenet, was his student. Therefore, when Prince Albert wrote a letter to the great composer with a proposal to create an opera for the theater in Monaco, Gunsburg himself took the message to his teacher in Paris. Here in Paris, later, an audition of a new work, which was attended by Albert, took place. Shortly before the premiere, Massenet and his wife arrived in Monaco, where they settled in the palace of the ruler of Monaco. Subsequently, the composer called this stay with the Prince unforgettable.
The premiere of “Juggler” was a great success. This opera belongs to the best achievements of the late period of Massenet. In 1903, Massenet again came to Monte Carlo, this time to celebrations associated with the opening of the monument to Berlioz. Gunsburg took a lively part in these celebrations, and Massenet gave a historic speech on the role of Berlioz in world music culture.
Fedor Chaliapin as Mephistopheles Years 1903-1927 belong to the most fruitful in the activities of Gunsburg in Monte Carlo. On February 17, 1905, Fedor Chaliapin made his debut here in the title role in the opera Mephistopheles. The great Russian bass in the book “Pages from my life” devotes almost four pages to Gunsburg. The memories of the impresario are full of irony, but respect peeps through it: “he is a born theater man, talented in his own way. He knew the conditions of the scene, knew everything that would be interesting on it, subtly felt its effects and defects. I often had to swear with him … but I never lost sympathy for him and did not feel his loss of respect for me. Yes, and I, in essence, always respected him, for I saw that this man loves the cause. ” Chaliapin’s irony increases when he talks about works composed by Gunsburg specifically for him and staged in Monte Carlo. We are talking about the operas “Old Eagle” (1909, according to the legend of M. Gorky “Khan and his son”) and “Ivan the Terrible” (1911). About the last Chaliapin writes: “the devil knows what was not heaped up in this opera! Fire, hunting, bacchanalia in the church, dancing, fighting, Grozny rang the bells, played chess, danced, died … “, but ends the story with these words:” It was a real theater performance, because the talents of the artists were given freedom and they managed to make a serious and even instructive spectacle out of trifles. ” Of course, Günsburg’s composing talent cannot be called strong, his compositions have gone into oblivion, they are remembered only thanks to the participation of Chaliapin or J. Thiel in them, but all these episodes characterize our hero give a vivid flavor. Much more important is another fact in the history of the theater, where the paths of Chaliapin and Gunsburg converged. This is Don Quixote by Massenet, written by the composer specifically for Chaliapin and staged at the Gunsburg Theater.