French Opera

French Opera: A Short History

VINCENT GIROUD
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npstn
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  • Book Info
    French Opera
    Book Description:

    French opera is second only to Italian opera in the length, breadth, and diversity of its history. Yet most people, if asked to come up with titles, could mention only a handful of titles-Carmen,Faust,Pelleas et Melisande,Samson et Dalila-a small list for an operatic tradition that began in the seventeenth century and is still very much alive. This book provides a full, single-volume account of opera in France from its origins to the present day.

    Vincent Giroud looks at the leading composers, from Lully to Messiaen and beyond; at the development of French operatic form and style; at performance, performers, and audience; and at the impact of French opera beyond France's borders. Lovers of opera will find this an ideal companion to their appreciation of the form.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16821-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    As this book hopes to show, French opera is second only to Italian opera in the length, breadth, and diversity of its history. Yet most people, if asked to come up with titles, would mention only a handful –Carmen, Faust, Pelléas et Mélisande, Manon, Werther, Samson et Dalila, Dialogues des carmélites. They are indeed works that are regularly staged by opera houses worldwide and have never left the repertory since they were premiered. But they constitute a small number and a relatively short time span – 1859 to 1957 – for an operatic tradition that officially began in 1671...

  6. CHAPTER 1 FROM THE ORIGINS TO LULLY
    (pp. 5-24)

    Before opera was introduced to France – and even before it came into being in its native Italy – a new genre, mixing dance and singing, appeared at the French court in the 1580s and flourished for about a century.¹ Deriving in part from the lavish entertainments held at the Burgundy and Valois courts beginning in the late Middle Ages, it was also a product of the Renaissance’s ambition to achieve a fusion of the arts of a kind practiced, according to a largely idealized conception, in classical antiquity. After several forerunners in the 1570s,²the ballet de courcame...

  7. CHAPTER 2 FROM LULLY TO RAMEAU
    (pp. 25-44)

    Lully had secured a monopoly on opera performances in France beyond his lifetime. In his will he entrusted the direction of the Opéra to his widow, to be aided by his assistant and closest disciple Pascal Collasse. In the event, Madeleine Lully transferred her duties to her son-in-law Jean-Nicolas de Francine, grandson of the Florentine stage-machinist Tommaso Francini.¹ But Lully’s ghost continued to haunt French operatic life for several decades.

    The home of the Opéra remained at the Palais-Royal until it burned down in 1763. It had by then outlived its use and was considered “the plainest and smallest opera...

  8. CHAPTER 3 THE AGE OF RAMEAU
    (pp. 45-68)

    Few rulers in history can have been more sympathetic to opera than Philippe d’Orléans, who became regent at the death of Louis XIV in 1715 – Louis XV being only five – until his own death in 1723. He had studied composition with Charpentier and written an opera in collaboration with him and two more with his music master Gervais. He protected Destouches, Bertin de La Doué,¹ Campra, and Baptistin.² Pleasure-loving – to excess, his enemies claimed – he shared none of Louis XIV’s inclinations to religious devotion. An Italophile, notably in his musical taste, he immediately brought back the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 GLUCK TO REVOLUTION
    (pp. 69-92)

    When the English musician and future music historian Charles Burney, whose adaptation of Rousseau’sLe devin du villagewas staged at Drury Lane in 1766, visited Paris in June 1770, he went to the opera. After the fire that had destroyed the Palais-Royal theater in 1763, the Académie royale had been provisionally installed in the Salle des machines of the Tuileries, remodeled into smaller proportions by Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the great neo-classical architect, who in 1756 had built the Grand Théâtre in Lyons, and the even more famous Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who designed both the Place de la Concorde and the Petit...

  10. CHAPTER 5 REVOLUTION TO ROMANTICISM
    (pp. 93-125)

    The French Revolution is remembered above all for its excesses and, especially, for the period known as the Terror, which lasted from June 1793 until the fall of Maximilien Robespierre in July of the following year. But the Revolution went through several phases. The initial one was essentially liberal, favoring free enterprise by reaction against the controls and monopolies put in place by the absolute monarchy. A law was thus passed by the National Assembly on 13 January 1791 that allowed theaters to operate freely. Not only did it permit new theaters to open but for the first time it...

  11. CHAPTER 6 THE AGE OF GRAND OPÉRA
    (pp. 126-160)

    The 1825–70 era was a golden age for opera in general and French opera in particular. During that period, Paris enjoyed unprecedented cultural prestige, becoming, in Walter Benjamin’s phrase, the “capital of the nineteenth century.”¹ The Opéra was then Europe’s principal lyric theater. Having a work successfully staged there, for French and non-French composers alike, was a consecration avidly sought by the leading opera composers of the age. Although it partly eluded the greatest two, Verdi and Wagner, who had to wait several decades to gain full acceptance in France, their eagerness to conquer Parisian audiences, with works either...

  12. CHAPTER 7 FRENCH OPERA UNDER THE SECOND EMPIRE
    (pp. 161-194)

    Born of Louis Napoléon’s coup d’état on 2 December 1851 – “legalized” by referendum the following year – the Second Empire ended in disgrace when the French were ignominiously defeated by the Prussians at Sedan in September 1870. It has, understandably, been judged harshly as a result, even in the aesthetic sphere. Reynaldo Hahn could write in 1925: “The Second Empire was an essentially anti-musical period. Its music resembled its furniture: it was ill-assorted, mediocre, and heavy, comprising elements of every genre and every period; its style consisted of a total lack of style.”¹ Admittedly, the 1850s and 1860s are...

  13. CHAPTER 8 FROM CARMEN TO PELLÉAS
    (pp. 195-236)

    The defeat of 1870–71 by Prussia was one of the worst catastrophes France had known. Its human cost – an overall demographic deficit of 600,000 – was high. In Paris, the horrors of the siege were compounded by a civil war – the Commune – crushed with extraordinary severity. The humiliation caused by the capitulation and the annexation of three easterndépartementsby the newly born German Reich resulted in feelings of wounded patriotism. The insouciant cosmopolitanism of the Second Empire was now viewed as one of the root causes of the military disaster. This moral and intellectual crisis...

  14. CHAPTER 9 FROM THE BELLE ÉPOQUE TO THE ANNÉES FOLLES
    (pp. 237-269)

    The period known as the Belle Époque, which began with the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 and ended with the start of the First World War, was ushered, in the field of opera, by the double sensation ofLouisein 1900 andPelléastwo years later. Each represented a different kind of operatic avant-garde. WithLouise, Charpentier, like a “painter of modern life” to borrow Baudelaire’s phrase, produced the most accomplished example of French operatic Naturalism, a homegrown response to Italianverismo. In a parallel way, with a more radical musical language,Pelléas, unlike previous French “drames lyriques,” appeared to...

  15. CHAPTER 10 CRISIS AND RENEWAL
    (pp. 270-305)

    It is in the nature of things that all forms of art, even at their most successful, are constantly felt at the time to be going through one crisis or another. Such feelings are easily exacerbated in periods of economic or political difficulties. Opera, arguably the most expensive of all art forms, is all the more exposed in times of economic downturns. The Great Depression, which began in 1929 but started to hit France seriously in 1931, resulted in a sharp decline in ticket sales, both in Paris and elsewhere. The financial emergency had obvious artistic implications for French opera:...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 306-339)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 340-346)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 347-366)