Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges
We take a look at the life and work of composer Joseph Bologne, whose work will be presented in the first half of our concert this autumn.
The celebrated swordsman and virtuoso violinist was a pioneering black composer whose name and reputation at one point eclipsed that of his younger contemporary, Mozart.
In the video below, opera expert Alexandra Coghlan meets Professor Christopher Dingle to introduce us to a historical trail-blazer whose exceptional story, as well as his music, has been neglected for far too long. Plus, director Simone Ibbett-Brown tells us how the concert programme will interweave stories from the composer’s extraordinary life with the narrative and music from The Anonymous Lover.
A brief introduction
The Anonymous Lover is the only complete surviving opera by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges – the pioneering black composer whose name and reputation at one point eclipsed his younger contemporary Mozart’s, but whose music has since all but slipped from the repertoire.
Saint-Georges’ life reads like a Hollywood screenplay. The illegitimate son of a French aristocrat and an enslaved woman from his Guadeloupe plantation, he travelled to France at an early age and enjoyed all the advantages of education and position his father could give him. Despite growing up in an age in which racism was still enshrined in law, Saint-Georges’ exceptional abilities soon set him apart. A master horseman and fencer – once reputed to be the best in Europe – a virtuoso violinist, conductor (both commissioning and premiering Haydn’s Paris Symphonies) and composer, he led France’s first all-black regiment in the French Revolution and was a prized guest in Paris’s most exclusive salons.
The Anonymous Lover is a comic opera about love across the class divide. Valcour loves Leontine, but cannot openly declare his devotion to the wealthy widow. Instead he invents an anonymous love who courts Leontine in letters and gifts, while concealing his own feelings from her. But when the weight of emotion becomes too much, he resolves to come clean – whatever the cost.
Why not to miss it
Instead of a traditional concert performance, Glyndebourne will be interweaving arias, extracts and ensembles from the opera with spoken theatre. Bringing the opera’s plot and characters together with Saint-Georges’ own life history, Simone Ibbott-Brown’s new script will bring this trailblazing composer, his music and imagination to vivid life. The show will explore Saint-Georges both as man and musician – an exceptional figure whose place in history is only now fully being recognised.
Cast and creative team
Above: Luthando Qave and Mariam Battistelli in rehearsals for La bohème. Photo: James Bellorini.
Stephanie Childress conducts an exciting young cast, led by soprano Alexandra Lowe – Second Prize winner at Glyndebourne’s inaugural Opera Cup – as Léontine.
Joining her are Luthando Qave and Mariam Battistelli who also appear in the Tour 2022 production of La bohème as Marcello and Musetta.