From Plantation to Paradise?

From Plantation to Paradise?: Cultural Politics and Musical Theatre in French Slave Colonies, 1764–1789

David M. Powers
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 218
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.14321/j.ctt7zt6t5
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    From Plantation to Paradise?
    Book Description:

    In 1764 the first printing press was established in the French Caribbean colonies, launching the official documentation of operas and plays performed there, and marking the inauguration of the first theatre in the colonies. A rigorous study of pre-French Revolution performance practices in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Powers's book examines the elaborate system of social casting in these colonies; the environments in which nonwhite artists emerged; and both negative and positive contributions of the Catholic Church and the military to operas and concerts produced in the colonies. The author also explores the level of participation of nonwhites in these productions, as well as theatre architecture, décor, repertoire, seating arrangements, and types of audiences. The status of nonwhite artists in colonial society; the range of operas in which they performed; their accomplishments, praise, criticism; and the use ofcréoletexts and white actors/singersà visage noirs(with blackened faces) present a clear picture of French operatic culture in these colonies. Approaching the French Revolution, the study concludes with an examination of the ways in which colonial opera was affected by slave uprisings, the French Revolution, the emergence of "patriotic theatres," and their role in fostering support for the king, as well as the impact on subsequent operas produced in the colonies and in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-410-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    Is it possible that the color barrier in opera was broken over two centuries ago—and in a slave colony? The concept is quite amazing, for how and why did such a phenomenon occur in a place in which the institution of slavery was such a thriving enterprise? To what extent did the politics of a European empire impact the cultivation of opera in its colonies? The concepts, theories, and attitudes presented in travel narratives, and those propounded by thephilosophes¹ significantly impacted musical activities in France and in the colonies. We know from past research that European colonial powers...

  7. CHAPTER 1 ESTABLISHMENT OF COLONIAL HIERARCHY
    (pp. 25-46)

    The history of music in European colonial systems provides us with much valuable information about peoples of these territories. However, we know very little to date about how European colonial powers used their own performing-art forms (opera, court ballet, theatre, and symphony) within the colonies to glorify colonialism and to depict the presence of the sub-Saharan African Other. In order to comprehend how such phenomena occurred during an extremely volatile period in history, and to put these developments in the proper perspective, it is important that the reader have a general understanding of culture and politics in the colonies and,...

  8. CHAPTER 2 POLITICS AND POWER
    (pp. 47-64)

    The power of the French colonial empire can be broken down into three categories—religious, military, and political. Each category had its own musical repertoire that, in turn, reflected the three goals of the cultural political campaign—to maintain the peace, to ensure absolute respect for the social hierarchy, and to promote French culture. This chapter will illustrate that within these categories of power, three very distinct paths of socialization emerged in the colonial hierarchy. Although these powers affected everyone in the colonies, each category was geared primarily to a particular section of the nonwhite population. Religious power focused on...

  9. CHAPTER 3 COLONIAL SOCIETY AT THE THEATRE
    (pp. 65-84)

    French composers, writers, and patrons of the arts frequently discussed and wrote numerous essays and treatises on the calming influence of music on the soul. They defined their music as delicate, refined, and culturally uplifting—attributes that, they deemed, had an extremely positive influence on the listener. Official communications between France and colonial authorities underscored this view. As indicated above, administrators in Martinique, addressing the need for a new theatre, opined that through constant exposure to French music and theatre, “free colored men could lose much of the barbarity of their origin and, thus, become civilized in their manners and...

  10. CHAPTER 4 INTRODUCING THE STARS
    (pp. 85-92)

    As discussed above, slaves were very useful in strengthening the economy of colonial society by filling various occupations. They were also well prepared for performing in concerts and operas, for they had been thoroughly trained in thegalantdances of the French court and had learned a variety of musical techniques from missionaries and other artists imported from France. Many were also trained musicians, which heightened their value socially as well as economically. In fact, musical events were so important for colonial aristocrats that displaying one’s slaves who could perform well on the violin or other European instruments enhanced considerably...

  11. CHAPTER 5 BREAKING THROUGH THE BARRIER
    (pp. 93-104)

    Throughout the early stages of theatre development in Port-au-Prince, performances continued with some irregularity, primarily due to several changes in directorship. However, conditions changed dramatically under the stewardship of Francois Saint-Martin, an actor, singer, and entrepreneur. He was appointed director of the Port-au-Prince Comédie in 1777, a position he held until his death in June 1784. During this period, he also undertook directorship of theatres in Saint-Marc (1782–1784) and in Les Cayes (1783). In addition to discussing the bold innovations of Saint-Martin, it is also important to note the extent to which the repertoire of each theatre was influenced...

  12. CHAPTER 6 THE ESCAPE FROM REALITY CONTINUES
    (pp. 105-112)

    In the two decades preceding the French Revolution, colonial authorities continued to search for ways to ensure that citizens “taste the fruits of peace” similar to that enjoyed by those living in France, as espoused by the regent of France at the beginning of the eighteenth century. They recognized that encouraging and supporting the production of elaborate musical and dramatic activities could be tremendously useful in meeting their goals. As indicated above, theatre architecture, décor, and costumes in colonial theatres were just as elaborate as those displayed in Paris and in other European cities. Plays and operas at their height...

  13. CHAPTER 7 FINALE: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
    (pp. 113-122)

    Throughout the 1780s, that glorious decade of colonial theatre, interest in black creole culture increased dramatically. The creole patois—with its strong ties to African culture—was prominently featured in theatres throughout Saint-Domingue. Equally significant, the increasing popularity of creole productions occurred simultaneously while the colonies were seething with discontent, the results of which deeply impacted theatre activities. In order to fully appreciate the connection between colonial dissension and the theatre, we must first explore the primary causes for such conditions.

    Forcolonsand other white authorities, the most problematic issues emanated from the nonwhite sector. First, there were incessant...

  14. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 123-126)

    Paradise?That cruelly provocative institution was dismantled, mentally as well as physically, by the same group of people for which it was created. It engendered hostilities between all sectors of the population. In Cap Français, mothers,négresses libres(free black women), were pitted against their daughters when they sought to be seated in the same boxes with them. In the South Province, many free coloreds were legitimate children of mixed-race marriages and enjoyed special seating privileges in theParadis, which caused more dissension within the free colored population. Colonial authorities continuously passed laws restricting freedoms previously enjoyed by free coloreds,...

  15. APPENDIX 1. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 127-132)
  16. APPENDIX 2. “LA FAUVETTE” (THE WARBLER)
    (pp. 133-146)
  17. APPENDIX 3. MOREAU: EFFECTS OF MISCEGENATION
    (pp. 147-148)
  18. APPENDIX 4. DESCRIPTIONS OF COLONIAL THEATRES
    (pp. 149-156)
  19. APPENDIX 5. PREMIERES OF PLAYS BY MOLIÈRE AND VOLTAIRE
    (pp. 157-160)
  20. APPENDIX 6. DISCOGRAPHY
    (pp. 161-164)
  21. APPENDIX 7. COLONIAL PRODUCTIONS WITH SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAN ELEMENTS
    (pp. 165-192)
  22. NOTES
    (pp. 193-226)
  23. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 227-252)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 253-256)