Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opera, 1789-1794

Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opera, 1789-1794

Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opera, 1789-1794

Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opera, 1789-1794

Synopsis

Over the last decade, the theatre and opera of the French Revolution have been the subject of intense scholarly reassessment, both in terms of the relationship between theatrical works and politics or ideology in this period and on the question of longer-scale structures of continuity or rupture in aesthetics. Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opera, 1789-1794 moves these discussions boldly forward, focusing on the Paris Opéra (Académie Royale de Musique) in the cultural and political context of the early French Revolution. Both institutional history and cultural study, this is the first ever full-scale study of the Revolution and lyric theatre. The book concentrates on three aspects of how a royally-protected theatre negotiates the transition to national theatre: the external dimension, such as questions of ownership and governance and the institution's relationship with State institutions and popular assemblies; the internal management, finances, selection and preparation of works; and the cultural and aesthetic study of the works themselves and of their reception.

In Staging the French Revolution, author Mark Darlow offers an unprecedented view of the material context of opera production, combining in-depth archival research with a study of the works themselves. He argues that a mixture of popular and State interventions created a repressive system in which cultural institutions retained agency, compelling individuals to follow and contribute to a shifting culture. Theatre thereby emerged as a locus for competing discourses on patriotism, society, the role of the arts in the Republic, and the articulation of the Revolution's relation with the 'Old Regime', and is thus an essential key to the understanding of public opinion and publicity at this crucial historical moment. Combining recent approaches to institutions, sociability, and authors' rights with cultural studies of opera, Staging the French Revolution takes a historically grounded and methodologically innovative cross-disciplinary approach to opera and persuasively re-evaluates the long-standing, but rather sterile, concept of propaganda.

Excerpt

The Opéra has always been considered a political establishment, because of the
emulation it encourages amongst the arts, the perfection of taste to which it
contributes, and the number of foreigners it attracts and retains in the Capital.
Since its establishment in 1669, it has seen frequent changes of management
regime. Expenses have always exceeded income, but it has always been recognised
that this superb theatre was necessary and should be maintained in a state of
magnificence
.

The Opéra can be considered as a monument to the glory of the French Nation,
which must be supported, even politically, at the price of certain sacrifices
.

The Opéra is not just a business, whose principal aim is to produce a profit. It is
also a theatre which contributes to the embellishment of the Capital, attracts
foreigners, encourages artistic talents and contributes to the progress of all arts
.

1 Villedeuil to Louis XVI, 8 May 1789, AN: O/1/613 #118, f.1r. Throughout this study, quotations have been translated by me in the text; for longer passages, the original sources may be found in the accompanying web resource.

2 [Papillon de La Ferté], “Conclusion”, [1790], AN: O/1/617 #46, f.1v.

3 Papillon de La Ferté, “Mémoire”, undated, AN: O/1/617 #36, f.1r.

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