Les Huguenots is a French opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps. It was first performed in Paris in 1836.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Les Huguenots was very popular. Premiered in 1836, it was performed more than 1,000 times at the Paris Opera by 1903, but like the rest of Meyerbeer's operas lost favor in the early part of the twentieth century and it no longer forms part of the standard operatic repertoire. However, there are several complete recordings extant, including a famous pirate recording from La Scala with Franco Corelli and Joan Sutherland. In recent years, the opera has sometimes been performed in concert form, and there have been occasional revivals by European opera companies, most recently for three performances in November, 1999 in Bilbao. In addition, an instrumental piece from the opera is played by the Massed Bands of the Household Division of the British Army during the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony in June.
One reason for the lack of revivals is the extraordinary difficulty in casting the work. Les Huguenots has seven leading roles--two sopranos, one contralto, two baritones, a tenor, and a bass. Moreover, the tenor part, Raoul, is one of the most taxing in all of opera. He is onstage for large sections of all 5 acts and his music is filled with extremely difficult high notes.
The plot of the opera culminates in the historical St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572 in which thousands of French Huguenots (Protestants) were slaughtered by the Catholics in an effort to rid France of Protestant influence. Although the events of the massacre are depicted with relative accuracy in the opera, the rest of the plot, primarily concerning the love between the Catholic Valentine and the Protestant Raoul is wholly a creation of Scribe, the librettist.