Opera - France with Simone

S. Monnier Clay Ph.D.
In Italian opera means “work”, and refers to a musical drama
in which singers convey the drama.
An opera unites all art forms:
-sometimes dance
(especially in French operas)
-musical instruments,
The origins of opera
The history of opera can be traced back to ancient Greece
where people would perform musical dramas with an occasional
song from the choir to further the plot.
Using recitatives, the Italian, Jacopo Peri (1561-1633), created
the very first Italian opera, Dafne, which debuted in 1594.
Later, Peri wrote a piece of music for the comedy La pellegrina
that was performed at the wedding of the Grand Duke
Ferdinando and Christine of Lorraine.
This music is called an intermedi, which is a musical interlude
performed between acts in a play.
The golden age of baroque opera during
the XVIIth century
The first great composer of operas was
Claudio Monteverdi
(1567-1643) who produced opera’s
first masterpiece, L’Orfeo,
which premiered in Mantua, Italy
in 1607.
Opera soon spread from Venice and
Rome throughout Italy and
the rest of Europe with Lully in France,
Schütz in Germany
and Purcell in England,
all helped to establish their
national traditions during
the 17th century.
In Italy, two parallel genres of opera develop simultaneously:
-The opera seria (serious opera) in opposition to
-The opera buffa (of popular origins).
In France, the history of opera begins with a play
that incorporated a number of songs,
Le jeu de Robin et Marion by Adam
de la Halle and performed in 1275.
This play is considered to be one
of the first operas because it
combined dialogues - either spoken or
However, the songs were of popular
origins, and were not new compositions.
The French Ballet de Cour
As in Italy, the 16th century in France had its form of entertainment
mixing theatrics, voices and instruments. It was known as the
ballet de cour, and its first known example was the
Ballet de la Royne by Joyeuse (1581).
Since then, in France, ballet is included in the staging of an opera.
Performance of Alceste in Versailles (1674)
Lully and French opera
-Lully (1632-1687) came to France under Louis XIV and started
to write ballets for the king, who loved to dance.
In one especially famous ballet the king danced the role of Apollo,
the Sun-God, whence the image of the Sun-King.
-In 1664, Lully (1632-1687) worked on 13 comédies-ballets
with the playwright Molière (La Princesse d’Élide;
Le Mariage forcé, 1664;
L'Amour médecin, 1665;
Georges Dandin, 1668;
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, 1669;
Le Bourgeois gentilhomme,
1670; Psyché, 1671).
At times, both clashed on matters
of pronunciation and how
to set the French language to music,
Jean-Baptiste Lully
and their collaboration ended in 1671.
-After Molière's death (1673), Lully moved to create the French
answer to the Italian opera seria, but it was more of a sung
tragedy than an opera, the first ot these works was Cadmus,
performed in 1673.
-The 17th century was also the high point of French tragedy,
as served by Corneille and Racine.
Lully extended this genre of tragedy into music, hence the
generic names of French opera seria became tragédies en musique
or tragédies lyriques.
-Lully's operas were to profoundly shape the history of French
opera, down to the late 19th century.
-Among the main characteristics were: an orchestral accompaniment,
the inclusion of danced interludes, a standard structure of a Prologue
followed by 5 acts, frequent dramatic and musical use of the chorus,
libretti written in refined verse, subjects drawn from classical mythology.
Most of these characteristics persisted down to Verdi.
The librettist
Lully’s first tragédie lyrique Cadmus et Hermione was performed
on the 27th of April 1673 on a libretto written by
Philippe Quinault (1635-1388) who became his librettist life-long
librettist and the first of
the great opera librettists.
Philippe Quinault
Under the Sun King (Louis XIV),
Lully controled musical life in Paris and
He had a great influence on
European music of his time
and he inspired many composers
such as Henry Purcell,
Georg Friedrich Haendel,
Johann Sebastian Bach,
and Jean-Philippe Rameau.
Lully's operas were written mainly
for the king in Versailles, but they were immediately performed in
Paris as well, in the newly created Académie Royale de Musique
or Paris opera.
The greatest epigone of Lully was André Campra (1660-1744),
whose style is close to that of the master, but who showed more
invention in particular in the choral writing.
Tancrède was quite successful, and performed until 1764.
(The title-role was created, and sung for 30 years, by Thévenard.)
André Campra (right), librettist
Antoine Danchet (centre),
and artist Bon Boullogne (left).
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (164-1704) was more influenced
by Italian opera, and was not in favor with Lully, who possibly
detected a serious rival.
Charpentier's friendship with the king's nephew (Philippe d'Orléans,
future Regent) got him a shot at the Paris opera in the form of
Baroque opera: Cecilia Bartoli in Händel's Lascia la Spina
The French opéra-comique
The French opéra-comique was born on the 14th of May 1697.
On that day, Louis XIV, pressured by French playwrights,
ordered the closure of the Italian Theatre in Paris.
When the Italian theatre closed, the people running various fairs
around Paris quickly organized spectacles meant to replace
those offered by the Italians.
-At that time, there were six fairs around Paris, and two of
them were extremely popular:
The Foire Saint Germain (open between February and April)
and the Foire Saint Laurent (open from the end of July until
the end of September.)
These fairs gave birth to a type of entertainment full of vitality
with plays where singing alternated with spoken dialogues.
Eventually, an opera house was opened for their performance.
The Foire Saint-Laurent
Paris, the Opéra-Comique
The Opéra-Comique
Opera in England
In England, one of opera's antecedents in the 16th century was an
afterpiece which came at the end of a play; often scandalous and
consisting in the main of dialogue set to music arranged from popular
In this respect such afterpieces anticipate the ballad operas of the
18th century.
At the same time, the French masque was gaining a firm hold at the
English Court, with lavish splendor and highly realistic scenery.
Inigo Jones became the leading designer of these productions,
and this style was to dominate the English stage for three centuries.
These masques contained songs and dances.
In Ben Jonson's Lovers Made Men (1617), "the whole masque
was sung after the Italian manner, stilo recitativo.
Purcell and his contemporaries
The approach of the English Commonwealth
closed theatres and halted any developments
that may have led to the establishment of English
However, in 1656, the dramatist Sir William
Davenant produced The Siege of Rhodes.
Since his theatre was not licensed to produce
drama, he asked several of the leading composers
(Henry Lawes, Cooke, Locke, Coleman and Hudson)
to set sections of it to music. This success was followed by
The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and The History of Sir
Francis Drake (1659).
These pieces were encouraged by Oliver Cromwell because they
were critical of Spain.
With the English Restoration, foreign (especially French)
musicians were welcomed back.
In 1673, Thomas Shadwell introduced Psyche, patterned on the 1671
'comédie-ballet’ Psyche produced by Molière and Lully.
William Davenant introduced The Tempest in the same year, which
was the first Shakespeare play to be set to music (composed by Locke
and Johnson).
Late Baroque opera
The next big figure after Lully was Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).
The first opera was Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), the libretto inspired
by Racine's play Phèdre. The novelty of Rameau's music, especially
in the orchestral accompaniment and the density of musical material,
sparked furious controversy between
Lullists and Ramists; but within a few
years Rameau had come to dominate
the the stage, and remained the
pre-eminent composer of operas to his
death in 1764.
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Rameau contributed to: tragédies lyriques
(Castor et Pollux 1737, Dardanus 1739,
Zoroastre 1749, les Boréades 1764)
and opéras-ballets (Platée, Pygmalion,
les Surprises de l'amour, les Indes galantes,
Anacréon, les Boréades).
The Querelle des Bouffons
In the early 1750s, an extraordinary controversy, called the
Querelle des Bouffons, raged amidst the Paris intelligentsia.
In 1752, the Paris opera's management decided to invite a company
of Italian singers for a year-long residence, to perform Italian buffas,
including Pergolese's Serva Padrona.
To many, the Italian music seemed so airy, so light in contrast to
the intellectual complexity of the tragédie en musique.
The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, himself a composer, and
the author of most of the music entries in the Encyclopédie,
led the camp of the pro-Italians. He and Rameau were already
engaged in a rather bitter controversy over those articles, some of
which attacked Rameau's treatise on harmony (Rameau was a
proponent of equal temperament, which Rousseau claimed was a
mathematician's delight but a musician's nightmare).
The controversy was furious.
In order to appease the opponents, the government commissioned
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-72) to write an opera
which could serve as rallying point.
This he did with Titon et l'Aurore.
It won the day, in particular because Louis XV sent soldiers to take
over the pit held by the pro-Italian subscribers; during the night of
the creation, reports of the battle were sent every 15mn to Versailles.
The battle was won by the French side, although the “war” raged for
months. In the end, the pro-French party won and Italian music
was expelled from the Opera.
The Eighteenth Century
During the 18th century, Italian opera dominated most of Europe,
except France, attracting foreign composers such as Handel.
After Lully and Rameau, the next big event in Paris was
Glück (1714-1773), who wrote for the Paris opera in the tradition
of the tragédie lyrique.
His operas were performed into the 1820s, alongside those of Piccinni, Sacchini
and Grétry, Paisiello and Spontini (1800s), until Rossini came along.
Maria Callas.- "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice”
Milan, Italy
the Scala
built in
The Classic opera (from c. 1750 to c. 1820)
The most influential figure of late 18th century opera was Mozart,
(1756-1791) who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic
operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte
and The Magic Flute, a landmark in the
German tradition.
Cecilia Bartoli - Mozart - Nozze di Figaro - Voi che sapete
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Operas of the Romantic era
The first third of the 19th century saw the highpoint of the bel canto style, with
Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini all creating works that are still performed today.
In the French Romantic operas choirs and ballets were very important.
It is a type of opera seria called melodramma in Italie and grand opéra in France.
Thanks to the Romantic opera, opera became popular in all majors cities.
In France, during the XIXth century we find the opéra-comiques of Boieldieu
and Hérold, then, Meyerbeer developed the grand-opéra historique romantique
Such as Robert le Diable. This style is adopted by Fromenthal Halévy, the
author of La Juive.
Académie royale de Musique
Destroyed by fire in 1873.
Paris: Opéra Garnier
Paris, Opera Garnier
Opéra Garnier: Grand hall ceiling
Opéra Garnier
Ceiling: Chagall
Opéra Bouffe or the French operetta of Offenbach
-At the same time, during the middle of the 19th century,
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) develops the
French operetta or opéra bouffe.
The music and the content of the opéra
bouffe is very much lighter in style than
the comedies of opéra comiques and the plot
is developed through spoken dialogues.
-The best known of Offenbach's works in this form
is Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld).
This operetta mocks the serious legend tackled
earlier by Monteverdi and by Glück, among many others.
-Now Orpheus is glad to be rid of Eurydice, while she is quite happy
to enjoy herself in the Underworld, where the Blessed Spirits have
greeted her with a spirited can- can.
-Operettas were further developed in France by Lecocq and Messager.
Le Bataclan (for operettas), built in 1864
18th and 19th centuries England
Following Purcell, for many years Great Britain was essentially an
outpost of Italianate and French opera.
Handel's opera serias dominated the London operatic stages for
decades, and even home-grown composers such as Thomas Arne
and John Frederick Lampe wrote using Italian models.
This situation continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries,
including the works of Michael Balfe and William Vincent Wallace.
The only exceptions during these centuries were ballad operas,
such as John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), musical burlesques,
European operettas, and late Victorian era light operas, notably the
Savoy Operas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.
John Barnett made a serious attempt to follow in the footsteps of
Carl Maria von Weber with his opera The Mountain Sylph (1834),
the first through-composed (i.e. completely sung) English opera.
The mid to late 19th century is considered a golden age of opera,
led by Wagner (1813-1883) in Germany
and Verdi (1813-1901) in Italy.
Luciano Pavarotti - La donna e mobile - Rigoletto - Verdi
During the late 19th century,
Realism in opera is developed in
the operas of Gounod (1818-1893, Faust),
Bizet (1838-1875, Carmen)
and then Massenet (1842-1912,
Manon, Werther).
Bizet, CARMEN Final scene Migenes Domingo (Rosi Film)
The golden age continued through the verismo era in Italy
and contemporary French opera through Puccini and Strauss
in the early 20th century.
At the same time, new operatic traditions emerged in
Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Bohemia.
Théâtre du Châtelet: The imperial theatre, the Châtelet was
built between 1860 et 1862 by Gabriel Davioud upon the
request of Baron Haussmann, at the same time as the City Theatre
(Théâtre de la Ville) which is built just across the place du Châtelet..
Russian opera
Russian opera reached its peak in the work of such composers as
Glinka, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov,
Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
Searching for its typical and characteristic features,
Russian opera (and Russian music as a whole),
has often been under strong foreign influence.
Italian, French, and German operas have served
as examples, even when composers sought to
introduce special, national elements into their work.
This dualism, to a greater or lesser degree, has
persisted throughout the whole history of Russian
American opera
-American composers like Gershwin, Gian Carlo Menotti, and
Carlisle Floyd began to contribute English-language operas infused
with touches of popular musical styles.
-They were followed by modernists like Philip Glass, Mark Adamo,
John Coolidge Adams, and Jake Heggie.
-Moreover non-native-English speaking composers have occasionally
set English libretti (e.g. Hans Werner Henze, We Come to the River).
American Musicals
The greatest revolution in the American musical theatre
came in 1927 with Show Boat, by Oscar Hammerstein II and
Jerome Kern. They introduced the musical play as distinguished
from musical comedy.
Paul Robeson - Showboat - Ol' Man River
The musical play made further forward strides with Of Thee I Sing!,
the brilliant political satire by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind
and Ira and George Gershwin; with two more musicals by Jerome
Kern, Cat and the Fiddle and Music in the Air; with several more
musicals by Rodgers and Hart, most notably On Your Toes and
Pal Joey; and most of all with the first of the Rodgers and
Hammerstein masterworks, Oklahoma!, with which the musical play
finally became a significant American art form.
The musical play and musical comedy are today the two major
branches of the American musical theatre.
The Twentieth Century
At the beginning of the XXth century, opera undergoes various
transformations. Debussy (1862-1918) composes an opera
Pelléas et Melisande. Ravel and Dukas also contribute to various
musical innovations.
Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande
The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles,
such as atonality and serialism (Schoenberg and Berg),
Neo-Classicism (Stravinsky),
and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams).
With the rise of recording technology, singers such as
Enrico Caruso became known to audiences beyond the circle
of opera fans.
Opéra Bastille
Opéra Bastille
British opera: 20th century - today
-In the 20th century, English opera began to assert more
independence, with the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams
and Rutland Boughton and later Benjamin Britten, who, in
a series of fine works that remain in standard repertory
today, revealed an excellent flair for the dramatic and
superb musicality.
-Other British composers writing well-received operas in
the late 20th century include Richard Rodney Bennett (e.g.
The Mines of Sulphur), Harrison Birtwhistle (Punch and
Judy), Peter Maxwell Davies (Taverner) and Oliver
Knussen (Where the Wild Things Are). Today composers
such as Thomas Adès continue to export English opera
Benjamin Britten: The Turn of The Screw
1. What is an opera?
2. What is an operetta?
3. What is the difference between an opéra-comique and a opera lyrique?
4. Who was Offenbach?
5. What is a libretto?
6. Name some themes that inspired Romantic opera composers?
7. What differenciates a French opera from other operas?
8. How many opera composers can you name?