Louis Gallet (1835-1898)

Louis Gallet was a French librettist who collaborated with some of the most prominent composers active in the Paris music scene during the latter half of the 19th century. His first known work to be set to music was a joint effort with Edmond Glau in providing the libretto for Georges Bizet's La coupe du roi du Thule. Unfortunately, this manuscript was damaged after Bizet's death in 1875 and no copy has been found.

According to his good friend and frequent collaborator Camille Saint-Saëns, their first partnership was a small one-act piece for the Paris Opéra-Comique in 1871. Camille du Locle, the manager of the Opéra-Comique, offered to produce a small work for Saint-Saëns, and proposed Gallet to write the book. Saint-Saëns had not met Gallet at this time, but soon found that they worked well as a team. The first work was La Princesse Jaune ( The Yellow Princess - obviously the sensitivities of the times differed from ours). At the time, Japan had just recently been opened to the west and was thus the hot subject for art and style. The one-act piece was set half as half Japanese and half Dutch in order to soften the unusual Oriental influence, and was a great success.

Gallet was not a musician. He supported his family by working as an administrator for various hospitals and in the Paris Administration of Assistance to the Poor. Upon the recommendation of Saint-Saëns, he was given the position of music critic for the Nouvelle Revue where, like critics everywhere, he made few friends by writing frankly about what he saw and heard and ignoring the fads that came and went.

In addition to working with Bizet, Saint-Saëns and others, Gallet also provided librettos for Ambroise Thomas (Mignon) and Jules Massenet. He adapted the works of authors such as Georges Sand, Alexandre Dumas and Zola to the lyric stage. Perhaps his best known and most original work is his libretto for Massenet adapting Anatole Frank's Thaïs to opera. Gallet wrote Thaïs in a style he called "poésie melique", a type of free verse adapted to declamation and melodrama which allowed the declamation to soar into arias noted for their sonarities and dramatic effect.


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