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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.

  • I. How it all started

    Emerging in France in the late 16th century, court ballets owed much to the travelling Italian performers during the reign of the last Valois kings.

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  • II. The inventors of French opera

    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”.

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  • III. The age of the opéra-ballet

    After 1687, the Royal Academy of Music lost its composer, librettist and choreographer when Lully, and then Quinault, died, followed by Beauchamps’ departure.

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  • IV. Opera parodies and comedy

    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,...

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Pratical informations and booking

Exhibition Catalogue

Under the direction of Mickaël Bouffard, Christian Schirm and Jean-Michel Vinciguerra

22 x 27 cm, 192 pages, 100 reproductions, 39€

Published by RMN / BnF Éditions

A certain air of Italy. The Paris Opera from Louis XIV to the Revolution

May 28 – September 1, 2019
Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra, Palais Garnier
Access on the corner of rue Scribe and rue Auber, Paris 9e
Every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Open until 7 p.m. from July 15

Full rate 14€ - Reduced rate 10€


Mickaël Bouffard, Art Historian
Christian Schirm, Artistic Director of Academy, Opéra national de Paris
Jean-Michel Vinciguerra, Curator at the Musical Department, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Exhibition Design

Adeline Caron

Graphic Design

Loïc Le Gall

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