Parma's history evolved within the complicated politics among Spain, France, and the Habsburg Empire, forming the complex backdrop of Du Tillot's auspicious plan to create a new type of opera. Although the French presence in Parma has long provided fertile ground for historians and musicologists, some aspects of it with links to Du Tillot's plan deserve a closer look. The somewhat conflicting aspirations of Philippe de Bourbon and his wife, Louise Élisabeth, and the contributions made toward theatrical innovation by two of Parma's key creative personnel, Jean-Philippe Delisle, the director of Parma's French troupe, and Jacques-Simon Mangot, director of Parma's court music, all affected French musical theater in Parma in ways that merit further exploration.
Parma and Its History
A brief overview will help contextualize these particular factors. The Bourbon dynasty had become linked with Spain in the early eighteenth century. In 1714 Phillip V of Spain, the country's first Bourbon king, married Elisabetta Farnese, his second wife. Parma came under Bourbon control in 1731, when Charles, their oldest son, became duke. In 1734, with the aid of Spain, Charles captured Naples from the Austrians and moved to Naples, taking with him many of the Farnese dynasty's possessions that had established Parma's prominence as an artistic and intellectual center. Charles's achievements in Naples influenced Parma in the envy they were to create in his younger brother, Philippe, second son of the Spanish king. The Habsburgs annexed the duchy of Parma in 1738, and the Bourbons regained it in 1748 by the terms of the Treaty of Aixla- Chapelle. Philippe de Bourbon was installed in Parma as the duchy's new sovereign, arriving in the city in 1749 and ruling there until his death in 1766.
His wife, Marie Louise Élisabeth de Bourbon (1727–59), was King Louis XV's eldest daughter. Duchess Louise Élisabeth maintained her close ties with France, often visiting her father at Versailles. The enhancement of Parma's French artistic life during the Bourbon period was achieved in large measure through her intervention and she exerted a strong influence in diplomatic spheres as well. That mid-eighteenth-century Parma can be considered “a mirror of France in Italy” had a great deal to do with Louise Élisabeth's involvement in matters ranging from the aesthetic to the political.