This afternoon I had the pleasure of hearing an abridged version of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges' opera L'Amant Anonyme at 59 E 59 Theaters. This rare gem presented by Little Opera with the New Vintage Baroque ensemble is playing until March 20th, so see it while you still can!
I have a long-standing interest in Joseph Boulogne, the 18th-century composer who was knighted Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges for his fencing skill as well as his accomplishments as a violinist. Together with Lorraine Goodman, a former opera singer, I collaborated on a play about him, God of Arms, which received a couple of staged readings but has yet to be produced.
Saint-Georges was born on the island of Guadeloupe, the son of a wealthy French planter and an African slave. His father acknowledged him as his son and raised him as befitted a French gentleman, ensuring he had lessons in fencing and music. When he arrived in France, however, his dark skin provoked a great deal of prejudice, which would dog him all his life.
L'Amant Anonyme (The Anonymous Lover) is the only opera by Saint-Georges to survive in its entirety. Madame de Montesson, who was the secret wife of the Duke of Orleans and a patron of Saint-Georges, premiered the opera at her private theater in 1780. It tells the story of Valcour, a man secretly in love with his friend Leontine, but unable to tell her of his affections.
The opera is based on a play by Stephanie Felicite, a niece of Madame de Montesson who at 16 married the Comte de Genlis, becoming known thereafter as Madame de Genlis. Like Joanna Baillie, the Scottish playwright who followed her, Madame de Genlis saw drama as an opportunity to educate people, and wrote her plays as teaching devices.
Fortunately, L'Amant Anonyme feels delightful rather than didactic. If you want to go, check out the theater's website here:
59 E 59 Theaters