Giacomo Meyerbeer (born in 1791 as Yaakov Liebmann Beer) succeeded in creating the 19th century’s most frequently produced operas while maintaining and taking pride in his heritage. While so many are known to have changed their names to hide their Judaism for fear of anti-Semitism, he actually added the name Meyer in honor of his grandfather. (He began using Giacomo, an Italian form of Jacob, while studying in Italy.)

The son of a wealthy businessman, Meyerbeer was raised with the greatest advantages of Berlin society. However, his natural talent and his incredible musical abilities, particularly on the piano, were recognized while he was still quite young.

As he matured, however, Meyerbeer’s true desire was to compose, and in order to learn composition, he took himself to Venice. Meyerbeer was strongly affected by his time in Italy, especially by the friendship he formed with the famed Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. The two collaborated on some of Meyerbeer’s earliest works.

In 1824, Meyerbeer’s first major success, Il crociato in Eglitto, premiered in Venice. It was produced in London and Paris the next year, giving Meyerbeer his entry into the world of Parisian Opera. When his Robert le diable premiered in Paris in 1831, Meyerbeer became a true celebrity.

In addition to his Parisian operas, which he continued to create throughout his life, Meyerbeer remained attached to his native Berlin. His wife and daughters resided there, and he was appointed as the Royal Director of Music.

Whereas most other artists struggled to get by, Meyerbeer benefited greatly from his family’s wealth. It is known that he lent money to both Heinrich Heine and Richard Wagner, the latter who was once an ardent fan but later repaid Meyerbeer’s generosity (both financially and in assisting in getting Wagner’s earlier work produced) with vitriolic anti-Semitism later in life.

Meyerbeer passed away on May 2, 1864, at the age of 72. His final opera,
L’Africaine premiered after his death.

Today’s Treat was posted in honor of Classical Music Month and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 225th birthday.

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