June 18, 2024
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Reviewing: “Giacomo Meyerbeer: The Deliberately Forgotten Composer” By David Faiman. Gefen Publishing House. 2020. English. Paperback. 256 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9657023150.

In her History channel article “How Photos Became a Weapon in Stalin’s Great Purge” Erin Blakemore writes that while Joseph Stalin didn’t have Photoshop, that didn’t keep him from wiping the traces of his enemies from the history books. Even the famous photo of Soviet soldiers raising their flag after the Battle of Berlin was staged and altered.

Stalin was not the first, and will not be the last, to try to rewrite history. In the fascinating book “Giacomo Meyerbeer: The Deliberately Forgotten Composer,” author David Faiman tells the captivating story of how one of the most famous opera composers of the last 250 years was written out his history by his adversary.

Giacomo Meyerbeer, born Jacob Liebmann Beer, was a Jewish opera composer who created the grand opera genre. While many people today may not have heard of him, during his lifetime (1791–1864), he was compared to Beethoven Mozart and other greats. Moreover, his music filled opera houses all over the world.

For a composer as great as he was, what was Meyerbeer’s offense, and who was his adversary? Meyerbeer’s crime was that he was Jewish, and his adversary was the notorious anti-Semite Richard Wagner. What is ironic is that Meyerbeer was a patron of Wagner during his early years. Furthermore, Meyerbeer’s support enabled the production of “Rienzi,” one of Wagner’s earliest operas.

Yet with all that, it was Wagner with his jealousy of Meyerbeer’s success, combined with his raging anti-Semitism, that led to Meyerbeer disappearing from the opera scene. Wagner was such a dominant and powerful figure—he even got Friedrich Nietzsche to run errands for him—that the music world kowtowed to him.

Wagner was not just an anti-Semite; as Faiman writes, his immoral behavior included having numerous marital infidelities. One of his many affairs was with Cosima von Bülow, while her husband Hans von Bülow was overseas promoting Wagner’s work. Wagner was the consummate menuval.

Wagner wrote “Das Judenthum in der Musik” (“Jewishness in Music”), which was an attack against Jews in music in general, and Felix Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer specifically. This, combined with Wagner’s incessant diatribes against Jewish musicians, significantly affected Meyerbeer; his popularity started to dwindle.

While composers such as Mendelssohn abandoned their Judaism to gain admission into the 19th-century musical world, Meyerbeer was true to his faith and never seemed to be ashamed of his Jewish heritage. This is especially noteworthy of the latent (and in Wagner’s case, overt) anti-Semitism that existed then.

The book also details the story of Mordechai Golinkin and his efforts in the 1920s to start an Israeli opera house. Many of the performances included works from Meyerbeer. But the opera house ultimately went bankrupt as there was simply not enough money at the time. Pre-1948 Israel did not have opera at the top of its priorities.

Nearly all of Meyerbeer’s works are available on YouTube, including some of his most famous operas, including “Le Prophete,” “Robert le Diable,” “Les Huguenots,” and more. And interest in his operas has been gaining popularity in Israel in the past decades.

Meyerbeer’s story and life are fascinating, as Faiman details in this interesting book. Wagner left Meyerbeer for dead, and Faiman has started the long-overdue resurrection of one of the most important figures in music history.


Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information-security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science. @benrothke

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