Grétry's central position in French opera (especially opéra comique) was undisputed during his lifetime, though the ascendancy of younger rivals such as Cherubini and Méhul eventually stole some of his thunder. Despite bouts of ill health, he maintained a more or less regular composition schedule of two new operas a year. He was decorated and received a pension from the King which, of course, was cancelled by the Revolution; finding favor with the new regime, however, he received a doubled pension by order of Napoleon, who also accorded him the Legion of Honor. Grétry eventually purchased Rousseau's "Ermitage" near Montmorency and eased into retirement there as his musical style became outdated. He died at the estate in 1813.
Though never repertoire mainstays after the composer's lifetime, Gretry's operas enjoyed renewed interest as opera companies and audiences began to rediscover such unjustly overlooked composers of the Classical era. Richard Coeur-de-lion (1784) remains a seminal masterpiece of the opéra comique style; Zemire et Azor (1771), based on the story of Beauty and the Beast, received well-regarded productions in the 1980s and 1990s. Grétry's operas, despite a sometimes offhanded approach to the more academic rules of composition, are notable for a distinctive declamatory style, inventive use of ensembles, and graceful charm. Thanks to classical radio and occasional live concerts, Grétry ’s appealing opera overtures are sometimes heard, including the overtures to Le Magnifique, Le jugement de Midas and Richard Coeur-de-lion. Two particularly delightful orchestral works are the Danses villageoises and the Suite from Céphale et Procis. Read less
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