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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 February 2017


Gluck has been hailed as the ‘first truly international opera composer’, but his internationalism is always understood in strictly European terms. This article seeks to expand our understanding of Gluck's international scope beyond Europe and specifically into the French colonial Caribbean. Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) enjoyed the most vibrant theatrical tradition of the entire Caribbean in the eighteenth century, and three of Gluck's Paris operas that had premiered in the 1770s were given there in the 1780s. Performances of these works are examined in turn, with an emphasis on performance practices in the context of local conditions, both social and practical. Gluck's operas are seen to have reached a mixed, though segregated, audience that incorporated some free people of colour, including a small number of black people, and the first documented performance of a singer of colour in a Gluck opera is uncovered. Our understanding of Gluck's reach, reception and status is thus broadened and deepened in some significant ways, and some new areas of research are opened up.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press, 2017 

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1 Patricia Howard, ‘Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck’, Oxford Bibliographies: Music <> (15 June 2016).

2 Howard, ‘Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck’.

3 Barsham, Eve, ‘The Diffusion through Europe’, in C. W. von Gluck: Orfeo, ed. Howard, Patricia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 60 Google Scholar. She also mentions a possible performance of Orphée in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1794 – twelve years after the work was first performed in Saint-Domingue.

4 See Heartz, Daniel, ‘Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide: A Prolegomenon’, in Words on Music: Essays in Honor of Andrew Porter on the Occasion of His 75th Birthday, ed. Rosen, David and Brook, Claire (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon, 2003), 142.Google Scholar

5 Mercure de France (February 1773), 184.

6 For more on the changes that were made to the opera see Patricia Howard, ‘From Orfeo to Orphée’, in C. W. von Gluck: Orfeo, ed. Howard, 67–83.

7 For the purposes of this article, I consider Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice to be a ‘French’ opera, separate from his earlier ‘Italian’ version entitled Orfeo ed Euridice.

8 We can only speculate on why the other two Parisian operas of the period, Alceste (premiered at the Académie Royale de Musique on 23 April 1776) and Armide (premiered at the Académie Royale on 23 September 1777), were not taken to Saint-Domingue. It may simply have been owing to the vagaries of which scores and other materials made it successfully across the Atlantic.

9 Isert, Paul Erdman, Voyages en Guinée et dans les îles Caraïbes en Amérique (Paris: Maradan, 1793), 339 Google Scholar.

10 All page numbers to newspapers refer to those available on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (DLOC) <>. The original spelling and punctuation, which can be quirky and inconsistent, have been retained throughout. I have tried to regularize this in the English translations, all of which are my own. Throughout, I refer to the Affiches Américaines (AA) and the Supplément aux Affiches Américaines (SAA) only by their principal title and do not include the various subtitles that feature inconsistently alongside these.

11 Indeed, this article is an offshoot of my current book project, ‘Master, Slave and Free: Theatre and Citizenship from Colonial Saint-Domingue to the Founding of Haiti (1764–1804)’, in which I aim to examine the ways in which productions of spoken drama and opera discussed, promoted or denied citizenship among its audiences and performers. I am also preparing a database documenting every known theatrical performance in Saint-Domingue, which it is hoped will promote further research into this area.

12 Almanach général de tous les spectacles de Paris et des provinces pour l'année 1791 (Paris: Froullé, 1791), 293.

13 de Laujon, Alfred, Souvenirs de trente années de voyages à Saint-Domingue, two volumes (Paris, 1834)Google Scholar, volume 1, 166–167.

14 Almost all the documented performances of Gluck's Paris operas are benefit performances, though this is not as revealing a statistic as it might appear, since benefit performances needed to be more widely advertised than regular subscription performances, not all of which are mentioned in the local press.

15 de Saint-Méry, Médéric Louis Élie Moreau, Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l'isle Saint-Domingue, ed. Maurel, Blanche and Taillemite, Etienne, three volumes (Paris: Dupont, 1797–1798 Google Scholar; modern edition Paris: Société française de l'histoire des Colonies Françaises/Larose, 1958), volume 2, 987.

16 Howard, ‘From Orfeo to Orphée’, 69; see also 127.

17 Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description topographique, volume 1, 358.

18 Camier, Bernard, ‘Les concerts dans les capitales de Saint-Domingue à la fin du XVIIIe siècle’, Revue de musicologie 93/1 (2007), 80 Google Scholar.

19 Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description topographique, volume 2, 987 and volume 1, 358.

20 This is actually a reference to a production of Grétry's La Caravane du Caire, but what is true of that work is especially true of Gluck's serious operas.

21 See Butler, Margaret, ‘Gluck's Alceste in Bologna: Production and Performance at the Teatro Comunale, 1778’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 65/3 (2012), 727776 Google Scholar, for details of how similar difficulties were encountered and negotiated in Italy during the same period.

22 ‘Nouveautés’ (new works) are promised at all performances between January and Easter 1788 in Le Cap. See Supplément aux Affiches Américaines 12 January 1788, 698.

23 An article in the Affiches Américaines on 20 November 1781 states that the music on this occasion is by one ‘Lord Thalou’ (455), whom I have been unable to identify.

24 For more information about musical concerts in Saint-Domingue see Camier, ‘Les concerts dans les capitales de Saint-Domingue’.

25 Bernard Camier has written a series of articles about Minette, including, notably, ‘Minette: situation sociale d'une artiste de couleur à Saint-Domingue’, Généalogie et histoire de la Caraïbe 185 (2005), 4638–4642. An element of doubt remains over the identity of Minette's father, and whether or not the actress who appeared in New Orleans in the mid-1790s was the same person who had previously performed in Port-au-Prince. See also Le Gardeur, René, The First New Orleans Theatre, 1792–1803 (New Orleans: Leeward Books, 1963), 1314 Google Scholar.

26 In addition to Minette, the other actor of colour known to have performed solo roles on the island is her younger sister, Lise, who appeared in Les Cayes, Léogane, Saint-Marc and Port-au-Prince. There is also mention of a black creole actor who performed in 1788, and a visitor to the island, Alfred de Laujon, noted a mix of colours in the chorus at Port-au-Prince. See Clay, Lauren R., Stagestruck: The Business of Theater in Eighteenth-Century France and Its Colonies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

27 This interpretation is supported by the fact that she is referred to as ‘la nommée Minette’ (the so-called Minette) in the context of a legal dispute. See Affiches Américaines 1 July 1790, 368.

28 Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description topographique, volume 2, 989.

29 By contrast, Minette's younger sister, Lise, does not appear to have eschewed such works.

30 See Banat, Gabriel, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon, 2006)Google Scholar.

31 SAA 18 October 1783, 594.

32 Mercure de France (September 1774), 190–198.

33 SAA 21 December 1782, 494.

34 It is also possible that pitch on the island was different from that of the Paris Opéra.

35 Available at <>.

36 Gazette de Saint-Domingue 12 February 1791, 159.

37 SAA 3 November 1784, 710.

38 Mme Marsan left Bordeaux with her two children on 1 May 1775, aged twenty-nine, and performed, to great acclaim, in the theatre in Saint-Pierre, Martinique, later that year. She then moved to Saint-Domingue, where she performed at the theatre in Le Cap between 1780 and 1790. See Nicolas, Maurice, ‘Le Théâtre de Saint-Pierre au XVIIIe siècle: les années difficiles’, Annales des Antilles: Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire de la Martinique 1 (1955), 5364.Google Scholar

39 Moreau de Saint-Méry reported that ‘on applaudit avec transport au gosier flexible, aux gazouillemens de Mme Clerville’ (Mme Clerville's flexible throat and chirrupings are enthusiastically applauded) in Description topographique, volume 1, 361.

40 Howard, ‘From Orfeo to Orphée’, 69.

41 Following the slave revolts in Saint-Domingue, both Mme Marsan and Mme Clairville travelled to New Orleans, where they performed together at the newly established French theatre in the 1797–1798 season. See René Le Gardeur, The First New Orleans Theatre, 30. Bernard Camier believes that Minette also travelled to New Orleans; see Minette (1767–1807): Artiste de couleur à Saint-Domingue’, Revue de la Société haïtienne d'histoire et de géographie 205 (2000), 10.

42 In Fouchard, Jean, Artistes et répertoire des scènes de Saint-Domingue (Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie de l'Etat, 1955;Google Scholar reprinted 1988), Fouchard lists an upcoming performance of Orphée et Eurydice in the Supplément aux Affiches Américaines of 8 December 1788 (the correct date is 6 December 1788), when readers were told about a double bill on 20 December featuring Orphée et Eurydice, which is described as a ‘mélodrame dans le genre de Pigmalion de J. J. Rousseau’ (SAA 6 December 1788, 1020, and SAA 13 December 1788, 1029) (a melodrama in the style of J. J. Rousseau's Pygmalion). Despite some similarities in theme between Rousseau's Pygmalion and Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, it is difficult to believe that this can be a reference to Gluck's work, which is manifestly no melodrama.

43 The date of this announcement is wrongly listed by Fouchard as 3 March 1787. See Artistes et répertoire, 235.

44 The date (31 February) is clearly wrong, and the announcement is made too far in advance for 31 March. Assuming that the day of the week is correct, the two possible dates would seem to be either Saturday 24 February or Saturday 3 March (which is the equivalent to 31 February).

45 SAA 17 February 1787, 698.

46 Isert, Voyages en Guinée, 340. A note in the text indicates that the term ‘Christises’ designates the fourth generation offspring of a European father and an African mother.

47 Isert, Voyages en Guinée, 340.

48 SAA 10 April 1784, 242.

49 Given that it involved one male and one female voice (a flexible approach to voice type prevailed in Saint-Domingue, so it can be difficult to associate a name with a particular voice part), it seems likely that the duet was ‘Ne doutez jamais de ma flamme’ from Act 1, featuring Iphigénie and Achilles. The ‘ariette’ is more difficult to pin down as nothing is explicitly labelled as such in the score, and there are numerous arias for male voice, including several for Achilles.

50 AA 23 February 1788, 94.

51 AA 29 August 1789, 472.

52 Of course, extra rehearsals were perfectly in keeping with the spirit of Gluck's notoriously exacting and protracted rehearsal schedules for the same operas in Paris.

53 See Entiope, Gabriel, Nègres, danse et résistance: La Caraïbe du XVIIe au XIXe siècle (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1996)Google Scholar, especially 173–267.

54 Bruce Alan Brown points out that the ‘air pour les esclaves’ is a borrowing (with a new final section) from Gluck's earlier work La Halte des Calmouckes (1761). See Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), 304–312. The same exotic style is thus used for Kalmucks as for Lesbian slaves.

55 This is, of course, distinct from the performance in Saint-Domingue of a number of overtly political French works that deliberately and self-consciously sought to address the burning issues raised by the French Revolution. See Fouchard, Artistes et répertoire, 254–270, for information about these.

56 Fouchard, Artistes et répertoire, 12, confirms that M. and Mme Caillé moved from Le Cap to Port-au-Prince in April 1788.

57 Mercure de France (May 1777), 175.

58 Heartz, ‘Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide’, 144.

59 Mercure de France (July 1787), 139. For more information on the work see Brown, Bruce Alan, ‘ Les rêveries nouvelles des Grecs: Facture, Function and Performance Practice in a Vaudeville Parody of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (1779)’, in Timbre und Vaudeville: Zur Geschichte und Problematik einer populären Gattung im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, ed. Schneider, Herbert (Hildesheim: Olms, 1999), 306343.Google Scholar

60 AA 28 January 1786, 44. On the subject of parody, David M. Powers has noted the tradition, seemingly unique to Saint-Domingue, of the ‘créole parody’, which she defines as an opera ‘based on a preexisting French opera or play, drawing on the themes and characters of that work, but incorporating créole songs and dances instead of the original pieces’; see Powers, David M., From Plantation to Paradise? Cultural Politics and Musical Theatre in French Slave Colonies (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014), 81.Google Scholar It is not absolutely inconceivable that Favart's parody was further altered to meet local tastes and interests. However, the fact that no mention is made of the creole dimension, and that similarities with performances in Paris are explicitly indicated, would suggest not.

61 Les Rêveries renouvellées des Grecs was also performed in Le Cap. See SAA 9 August 1786, 410.

62 See Journal de Paris 139 (1779), 558–559.

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