Louise Bertin lived her entire life in France. Born on January (??February??) 15, 1805, Bertin was a member of a family that thrived on the arts. Her father, Louis-François Bertin, and also her brother later on, were the editors of Journal des débats, an influential newspaper. As encouraged by her family, Bertin pursued music. She received lessons from François-Joseph Fétis, who directed a private family performance of Guy Mannering, the first opera that Bertin ever composed, in 1825. This opera, while never formally produced, did keep with the trend of the time by borrowing its story line from the book of the same name, written by Sir Walter Scott. Two years later, Bertin’s second opera, Le Loup-garou, was produced at the Opéra-Comique. However, these two works pale in comparison to her other two operas.
At the age of 21, Bertin began working on an opera semiseria, based on the story Faust by Goethe. A performance of the completed opera was scheduled for 1830. However, due to many unforeseen complications, Fausto did not actually reach the stage until a full year later. Unfortunately, it was not well received and only saw three performances.
Shortly prior to that disappointment, Bertin became friends with Victor Hugo. Hugo himself had sketched out an operatic version of his book Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and between the two of them, the opera La Esmeralda was born, Hugo providing the libretto. Bertin is the only composer in history to have collaborated directly with Hugo on an opera. However, it was not meant to be. As the opera’s run began in 1836, the streets of Paris reeked with accusations against Bertin and her family, heckling her and claiming she had special privileges due to her brother Armand’s connection to the government’s opera administration. During the seventh performance, a riot ensued and the run of La Esmeralda was forced to end, though a reduction of the opera continued to be performed over the next three years. Wrought with frustration, Bertin refused to write any more operas.
While opera was no longer in the picture, Bertin did continue to compose in many different genres. Her later compositions include twelve cantatas, six piano ballades, five chamber symphonies, a few string quartets, a piano trio (which includes themes from both Fausto and La Esmeralda), and many vocal selections. Of these, only the ballades and the trio were published. But Bertin’s artistic abilities did not end there. She also wrote and published two volumes of poetry, Les Glanes in 1842 and Nouvelles Glanes in 1876. The former of these received a prize from the French Academy. Bertin died the year after publishing Nouvelles Glanes, on April 26, 1877.