Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
In the field of opera, Paris was more obviously and more celebratedly the capital of the nineteenth century than in any other respect: the developments there between about 1820 and about 1920 are some of the most important in the entire history of the genre. A vigorous critical industry grew up around these developments, including the establishment of the first serious music periodicals and, arguably, of the professionalised discipline of music criticism itself. At the same time, the burgeoning new tradition of urban, industrial-revolution literature was reflecting more and more, and with fresh interpretative intensity, what had become an important part of the society novel: the social event par excellence, the soirée à l'Opéra. From the mid 1830s onwards, this literature often appeared initially in serialised form, in the feuilleton sections of a range of newspapers and in periodical publications, and often side by side not only with the real society columns whose dramatis personae, institutions and events it fictionalised, but also with genuine reviews of performances of current musical-theatrical works.
Thus a dense and sometimes confusing web of textual interpretation of musical events, incorporating a variety of professional concerns, degrees of competence and philosophical-aesthetic positions, began to support, and become enmeshed with, a new practice of repertory opera production whose warhorses remained in action in some cases for decades. The intended readership of all these forms of discourse about opera, as well as the audience of the works in question, was more or less the same.