Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
If in Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, a book full of representations of live operatic performance, the motivating conceit is nevertheless the aura of opera that is dead and gone, the works that followed it in the genre of the soirée à l'Opéra moved even further away from active dialogue between boxes and stage towards a mise en scène that was almost entirely imaginary. In line with the Modernist novel's general tendency towards interiority, but also as if following a progressively more domestic trajectory of its own, this novelistic set piece became tantalisingly amorphous, no longer tied to datable performances and real-life singers (as in Dumas), nor even to plausible, if fictional, outings (as in Flaubert), but rather a creatively indeterminate space for reflection on the widest possible questions of art and existence. As in Leroux (and before him, Verne), developments in consumer technology were frequently at the centre of this new disposition of musical production and reception. In the case of Marcel Proust, this exploration of new kinds of attendance at (or, better, to) opera manifested itself in his enthusiasm for the so-called ‘théâtrophone’, a telephone service that allowed the subscriber to listen to whatever happened to be on at the Opéra, Opéra-Comique or any of half a dozen other Parisian theatres.
Obviously an exciting advance in the dissemination of music so far as opera-lovers in belle-époque Paris were concerned, the théâtrophone is an irresistible critical tool for the present purposes too.