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10 - Opera in France c. 1640–c. 1710

from Part III - National Traditions (outside Italy)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2022

Jacqueline Waeber
Affiliation:
Duke University, North Carolina
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Summary

Introduced in Paris in the middle of the seventeenth century, Italian opera took a long time to conquer French audiences. The genre of the spoken tragedy, represented by the works of Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine, had brought French theatre since the 1640s to a point of perfection: the notion of a play being sung throughout was thus met with much scepticism. French desire for cultural hegemony also resisted opera, which was perceived as an Italian import. The fate of this genre was also complicated at the political level: Cardinal Mazarin’s attempt to impose opera in France did not sit well in the hostile climate generated by the Fronde (1648–1653), during which time several members of Parliament and high-ranking nobles vehemently opposed strengthening the absolute monarchy. While Italian influence was considerable in the artistic domain, it was progressively restricted to theatrical architecture, machinery, and décors, all aspects that would nevertheless become paramount for the development of ‘pièces à machines’, that is, spectacular theatrical plays mostly performed on private stages – princely residences, the king’s palaces – and in Parisian public theatres.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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