A certain air of Italy. The Paris Opera from Louis XIV to the Revolution
This exhibition is being organised by the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Opéra national de Paris to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Paris Opera. It goes back over the often turbulent history of the first opera house in France, in its relations with Italian culture. Emerging in Florence circa 1600, court operas began to be performed across the other towns of the peninsula before reaching France, thanks first to the cultural policy of Queen Marie de’ Medici and then to that of Cardinal Mazarin, who were both keen to promote Italian performing arts through the first half of the 17th century. In 1669, after several years of experimenting, French opera finally appeared on the scene when Louis XIV founded the first opera house, no longer reserved solely for a courtly elite, but henceforth open to a wider, admission-paying audience. He granted an “opera privilege” to a show business entrepreneur, now expected to train a troupe and hire out a hall. Designed “on the Italian model”, the Paris Opera’s mission was to present “performances in French verse to music”. Until the French Revolution, this mission was carried out with two constant, yet conflicting, aims in mind: to look to a transalpine model for inspiration whilst showcasing a national ambition. The exhibition brings these flamboyant chapters in the Opera’s history back to life for visitors – peopled by such prominent figures as Louis XIV, Lully, Campra, Rameau, Gluck and Salieri, at a time when Paris was forging its reputation as one of Europe’s musical capitals.
To counter the Italian influence prevailing at the Court, the poet Pierre Perrin and musician Robert Cambert joined forces to compose La Pastorale d’Issy in 1659, “the first French play set to music to be staged in France”.
With the Royal Academy of Music holding the monopoly over performances sung in French, the Italian theatre company Comédie-Italienne, based at Hôtel de Bourgogne, turned its attention to the serious genre of the Opera,...