Giacomo Meyerbeer: Le Prophète

Zemlinksy Es war Einmal Critical Edition by Ricordi

Edited by Matthias Brzoska

Opéra en cinq actes 
Libretto: Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps (in French)
World premiere: 16.04.1849, Paris

“First performed just one year after the failed 1848 revolution, Le Prophète was perceived from the beginning as a commentary on the political events of the time and has lost none of that relevance in the 21st Century.”
—Deutsche Oper Berlin


Anabaptists incite a revolt among the peasants in order to free themselves from tyranny. The bondswoman Berthe wants to marry Jean, for which she requires Count Oberthal’s permission. But she and her companion, Jean’s mother Fidès, are instead arrested. Berthe manages to flee to Jean. The count gives Jean a choice between having Fidès killed and giving up Berthe. He decides to save his mother’s life, and Berthe is taken away. Jean joins the anabaptists as a new prophet out of vengeance. They manage to conquer the town of Munster where Berthe is supposed to have fled. Berthe and Fidès believe that the prophet has killed Jean, who has meanwhile crowned himself king. When Berthe finds out that the bloodthirsty megalomaniac Jean is in fact the prophet, she commits suicide. Fidès forgives him, despite his having disowned her as a mother. Jean still wants to take revenge on Oberthal and sets fire to the imperial castle during an assault. In doing so he kills himself, his entourage, and Fidès.


It took no fewer that 13 years for the work to reach its premiere, during which it underwent extensive conceptual and musical changes and received its final title. With Jean de Leyde, Scribe traces back to the leader of a short-lived religious and socially-revolutionary kingdom – a historical figure of the Munster Anabaptists of 1530. The work is therefore by no means to be understood as a musical and dramatic actualization of the revolutionary events of 1848 – rather history caught up with art, and the opera took on a surprising contemporary relevance. The solo scenes with Jean and Fidès and their mastery of the ensembles which interlace declamation and virtuosity in novel ways, as well as the rousing crowd scenes, shape the character of the opera and its somber underlying musical color.

Critical edition

  • Two versions have survived: The original version is found in the continuous score, while the abbreviated measures of the shorter Brandus version, published later, may be found in the appendix.
  • Two traditional versions of the Jean’s pastoral aria (No. 8) as well as two recomposed alternatives to Berthe’s cavatina (No. 1bis) are also included. The critical report offers an overview of the structure of the sources relevant to each number.
  • In this edition, discrepancies (additions, corrections, etc.) compared the source have been indicated.

Recommendations for concert

Overture - 4.4.3.oph - timp.perc - str 

1st Act No. 1bis(B) Cavatine Berthe Mon cœur s’élance at palpite
S - - - str 

2nd Act No. 8 Pastorale Pour Bertha, Moi je soupire
T - - - timp - 2hp - str 

2nd Act No. 15B Deuxième Air de ballet Pas de la Redowa - 4.0.0.oph - timp.perc - str 

3rd Act No. 14A Couplet des Zacharie Aussi nombreux que les étoiles
B.(Chr) - - 4.2.3.oph - timp.perc - 2hp - str