OPERA IN FRANCE
By MARTIN COOPER
Despite the enthusiasm aroused by Rameau's masterpieces of the 1730s, French interest in lyrical tragedy continued to wane as the century approached its middle point. It was not merely that musical connoisseurs, wits, and journalists became tired of comparing Rameau's merits with Lully's. The whole world of the opera with its mythological heroes and personified virtues and vices, its formal nobility and tenderness and its rhetorical declamation, was beginning to seem hopelessly remote from reality, a relic of the grand siècle surviving into an age whose interests and passions were quite different from those of Louis XIV and his courtiers. The glory of Rameau's operas lay in their music, and only a very small proportion of French society was interested enough in music as a self-sufficient art to accept an opera on its musical merits alone. The large majority had always looked to the opera house for entertainment, for dramatic excitement and spectacular magnificence, and Rameau provided them with little that was novel in any of these departments. The intellectual world which was eager for the iconoclastic wit of Voltaire, the new humanism of Rousseau, and the scientific materialism of the Encyclopedists was only very moderately interested in lyrical tragedy. The Court was different. There the taste for the old forms of spectacle and for the formal graces and sentiments of the mythological opera persisted in a backwater comparatively untroubled by the new currents of intellectual speculation and emotional unrest; and it is significant that a majority of Rameau works after Platée ( 1745) were intended for Versailles or Fontainebleau rather than for Paris.
Four years before Platée was produced at Versailles--a single performance not repeated in Paris until four years later--a very different work, and one much more in accordance with the taste of the day, reached no less than two hundred performances. This was La Chercheuse d'esprit ( 1741), an opéra comique by Charles Simon Favart, a witty and rather indecent treatment of the Daphnis and Chloe theme. Favart was the son of a pastry-cook who used to set his kitchen recipes to the current timbres, fredons, vaudevilles and popular operatic arias of the day, and it was from this familiar material that young Favart drew the music of La Chercheuse d'esprit. Julien Tiersot mentions the following ingredients: an air from Lully Amadis, a musette of Rameau's, the chansons'Quand la bergère vient des champs' and 'Rossignolet du
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: The Age of Enlightenment, 1745-1790. Contributors: Egon Wellesz - Editor, Frederick Sternfeld - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1973. Page number: 200.