The title of this mid- 19th-century French work, a big hit in its day, translates as ”The Jewess” in English-a word that has gone out of fashion, right along with Halevy’s opera. Not to be confused with the other operatic Halevy-Ludovic, who cowrote the libretto for Bizet’s Carmen-Jacques Halevy was, along with Meyerbeer, the leading exponent of French grand opera, as well as Bizet’s teacher and father- in-law. But tastes have changed, and although composers as disparate as Wagner and Mahler loved La Juive, modern audiences don’t. Not that they’ve had much chance, since the opera effectively has been out of the international repertory for a century or more.
This studio recording is heavily cut (otherwise, the thing would last as long as Gotterdammerung) but boasts some first-class singing from tenor Jose Carreras as the jeweler Eleazar and soprano Julia Varady as Rachel, the eponymous heroine who, in the end, turns out not to be Jewish at all. She’s actually the illegitimate daughter of the local cardinal (wouldn’t you just know it), raised by Eleazar-a fact that the jeweler reveals to Rachel’s real dad only after she is burned at the stake during a pogrom. Fun for the whole family in the best operatic blood ‘n’ guts tradition.