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Exhibitions

Focus - Grand opera, a laboratory for romantic ballet

Charles-Antoine Cambon - Maquette de décor en volume pour le ballet dans l’opéra Don Carlos, acte III, tableau 2 : « La Pérégrina », grotte féérique, 1867. Gouache sur carton, 36 x 61 x 43 cm. BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra.
Charles-Antoine Cambon - Maquette de décor en volume pour le ballet dans l’opéra Don Carlos, acte III, tableau 2 : « La Pérégrina », grotte féérique, 1867. Gouache sur carton, 36 x 61 x 43 cm. BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra. © BnF

From the very beginning, grand opera gave pride of place to ballet. Thus, the leading role in La Muette de Portici, in 1828, was conferred, not on a singer, but on a dancer. Three years later, Robert le Diable provided the context for a prototype of romantic ballet blanc: the “Bacchanale des nonnes”, choreographed by Philippe Taglioni for his daughter Marie, thus launching her Parisian career. From now on, ballet was to be an integral part of all works in the genre and contributed to their success.

Richard Wagner - Manuscrit autographe, 32,5 x 25,5 cm. BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra.
Richard Wagner - Manuscrit autographe, 32,5 x 25,5 cm. BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra. © BnF

Wagner himself was obliged, against his will, to respect this tradition and in 1861 introduced a danced scene for the Parisian premiere of Tannhäuser. Despite being choreographed by Lucien Petipa, the piece was qualified as “a schoolgirls’ orgy” by one critic at the time. Because of the increasingly flagrant lack of connection between the ballet and the dramatic action of the opera in which it had been inserted, a decline inevitably began.  

Louise Desnos - Portrait de Lucien Petipa, 1849. Huile sur toile, 73 x 59 cm. BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra.
Louise Desnos - Portrait de Lucien Petipa, 1849. Huile sur toile, 73 x 59 cm. BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra. © BnF
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