Armand Limnander Van Nieuwenhove: Le Maître-chanteur or Maximilien à Francfort

SLMaitreChanteurLibretto: Henri Trianon & Paul Leroy
World première: October 17, 1853, L’Opéra
Revivals: 1857 (l’Opéra), 1874 (Brussels), 1876 (Ghent)


2015, November 26, Royal Opera Ghent, Lully Hall.
‘Moi qui l'aimais d'amour si tendre’ (Act II, air Marguerite)
Pauline Lebbe (Marguerite), Joshi Hermans (piano)

Text: René Seghers
Synopsis: RS/Annelies Focquaert (Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek)


On the eve of the election of a new Emperor, the son of the count of Frankfurt-am-Main, Rodolphe, accepts a dangerous bet. He will get his beloved Marguerite, the naive daughter of smith Gunther, to marry him that very night in the chapel, and he will get her to sleep with him, even though his father has ordered him to marry another girl the next morning. This bet is written down in the presence of several visitors also present at the inn, who serve as witnesses. A mysterious Master Singer, who is just passing by, does the writing. Rodolphe wins the bet and thus puts Marguerite to shame. At the beginning of the Second Act Marguerite confesses her feelings for Rodolphe and her misery to her father in the aria, ‘Moi qui l'aimais d'amour si tendre’. Rodolphe himself is also overcome with remorse, especially when his father orders Marguerite to be cast out of the city. Rodolphe's true wish is to marry her and the Master Singer brings about the solution. He acknowledges that he has co-signed the contract, which stipulates that Rodolphe shall marry Marguerite. Then he reveals his identity: he is the new Emperor Maximilien and he declares that the improvised marriage is valid.

Download fragments from Le Maître-Chanteur

Our download program with Flemish opera arias and duets 401Concerts Nr. 2 was filmed and recorded on January 27, 2016, in Museum Vleeshuis, in a coproduction with the artists, soprano Pauline Lebbe and baritone Joris Grouwels. From Van Nieuwenhove's Le Maître-Chanteur ou Maximilien à Francfort lall four central pieces were performed:

01 ‘Chant de l'armurier’ (Aria Maximilien) [J]
02 ‘Je n'avais pas trois ans’ (Marguerite) [P]   
03 ‘Si tu m'abandonais’ (Aria of Gunther) [J]
04  ‘Moi qui l'aimais’ (Aria of Marguerite) [P]

Other arias and duets include Jan Blockx' operas De herbergprinses and De bruid der zee, and excerpts from operas by François-Auguste Gevaert, Armand Limnander van Nieuwenhove, Emiel Wambach en August De Boeck. Some highlights can be seen in the video trailer above. The complete concert is downloadable from our Flemish Opera Arias & Duets Concertpage.


Armand Limnander van Nieuwenhove’s Le Maître-chanteur met with enough success at the première of October 17, 1853 at the Paris Opera, to merit a revival there in 1856. This is of course the very same year that saw the creation of Wagner’s Meistersinger. For the 1874 revival in Brussels, Van Nieuwenhove therefore revised the opera and presented it under a new title, Maximilien à Francfort. With the appearance of Wagner's masterpiece, all previous plots featuring master singers were immediately outdated though, as was the appearance of an Emperor in disguise who brought about the otherwise inexplicable happy end. In that context we can understand the oblivion that struck Maximilien à Francfort. Nonetheless, Marguerite's grand aria reveals that Van Nieuwenhove knew his profession. Perhaps he was mostly a gifted craftsman, who failed to bring great melodic individuality to the music, which explains why his career eventually petered out at a time that saw the rise of such brilliant composers as Thomas, Offenbach and Planquette. To appreciate Van Nieuwenhove, one should rather see him in line with Auber, Adam, Massé and early Offenbach. While Maximilien à Francfort may well be more musically advanced than Les Monténégrens, that earlier opera still managed to surprise when it came out in 1847. A mere five years later, the opéra-comique had gone through a decisive development. Thomas had then composed Le songe d’une nuit d’été (1850), Adam Si j’étais Roi (1852) and Massé Les noces de Jeannette (February 1853). However, Van Nieuwenhove is an important Flemish composer, since after Grisar’s L’Eau merveilleuse from 1839, he was was one of the very first Flemish opera composers to have true success in Paris. In the 1840's he even influenced such composers as Auber, who found the inspiration for the humming chorus in Haydée in Van Nieuwenhove's 1845 'Hymne à l'harmonie'. Meyerbeer, and even Berlioz respected him and his operas certainly deserve further study. Hopefully this will result in more excerpts from his operas becoming available in live recordings such as the one presented here by us, Marguerite’s aria ‘Moi qui l'aimais d'amour si tendre’ from Maximilien à Francfort. This excerpt was recorded at a Flemish Opera concert in the Lully Hall of the Royal Opera House Ghent, in the wake of a symposium on Flemish music. Soprano in this modern times world première is Pauline Lebbe, pianist Joshi Hermans. The high resolution video download of the aria within the complete concert was made at Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerp, Januari 26, 2016.