Alzire for its first tragedy. It was well received and repeated two days later with Voltaire in attendance, and though he doubtless hoped for royal approbation, he had the disappointment of hearing the king loudly express astonishment that the author of Alzire could also have written Oreste. 10
Clearly much more satisfying to Voltaire than either Comédie or court at this time was the young group of amateurs that he had assembled and personally trained in the new private theatre in his own home. To them he gave the Rome sauvée, which he did not dare to have presented at the Comédie, and they offered its premiere early in June before an invited audience that included several abbés, representatives from the French Academy and the world of letters ( Diderot and d'Alembert), and even a few friends from court. Prominent among the latter was the Duc de Richelieu, who even arranged for costumes and properties from Crébillon's rival Catilina to be borrowed from the Comédie for Voltaire's use. This select performance brought the attention of the elegant world to Voltaire's private stage, and ministers, ambassadors, and the aristocracy sought entry to the subsequent performances of Le Duc de Foix, Zulime, and Jules César. The duchess of Maine invited the little troupe to Sceaux for a more public performance of Rome sauvée, which took place 22 June. There, Voltaire himself replaced the amateur actor Mandron, who had played Cicéron in his home, while Lekain appeared again as César. Lekain reported that "I do not believe it would be possible to hear anything truer, more pathetic, and more spirited than M. de Voltaire in this role. He was truly Cicero himself." The duchess was equally impressed, and while congratulating Voltaire, asked him who his young colleague, Lekain, was. "Madame," Voltaire replied, "he is the best of us all."11 After the performance, Voltaire informed the duchess that he had decided at last to accept Frederick II's oft-repeated invitation to settle in Berlin. Despite his many successes, the triumph and recognition that he continued to seek at court and in the cultural world of Paris still eluded him, as the recent ambiguous reception of Oreste at the Comédie and Alzire at Versailles clearly proved. The Prussian court, on the contrary, seemed to offer a sanctuary with a favorably disposed monarch and none of the priests, ministers, or literary rivals that continually intrigued against him in Paris. Voltaire obtained permission from King Louis to leave the kingdom (not, apparently, very unwillingly given) and by July he was in Germany. He did not presumably expect his exile to be an extended one, but in fact he did not again see Paris until a few months before his death, twenty-eight years later.
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Publication information: Book title: Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century. Contributors: Marvin Carlson - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 79.
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