Music Drama at the Paris Odéon, 1824-1828

Music Drama at the Paris Odéon, 1824-1828

Music Drama at the Paris Odéon, 1824-1828

Music Drama at the Paris Odéon, 1824-1828

Synopsis

Parisian theatrical, artistic, social, and political life comes alive in Mark Everist's impressive institutional history of the Paris Odéon, an opera house that flourished during the Bourbon Restoration. Everist traces the complete arc of the Odéon's short but highly successful life from ascent to triumph, decline, and closure. He outlines the role it played in expanding operatic repertoire and in changing the face of musical life in Paris.

Everist reconstructs the political power structures that controlled the world of Parisian music drama, the internal administration of the theater, and its relationship with composers and librettists, and with the city of Paris itself. His rich depiction of French cultural life and the artistic contexts that allowed the Odéon to flourish highlights the benefit of close and innovative examination of society's institutions.

Excerpt

In the years after the battle of Waterloo, music drama was very unlike what it is today. As much entertainment as art, it was a central element in court and civic recreation across Europe and the New World. National styles of composition and performance—far more diverse in the nineteenth century than in the twenty-first—characterized much stage music in an age where the locomotive and the telegraph were yet to accelerate communication across continents. Balances of power in music drama were also different: librettists were considered at least as important as composers, and the producer was only just beginning to emerge as a creative voice. Although some soloists continued to be treated as celebrities, their position was much more akin to that enjoyed by eighteenth-century figures in that composers still adjusted works to suit them and continued to do so for much of the century. At the same time, however, soloists also depended to a significant degree on the goodwill of impresarios and patrons.

Definitions of what constituted opera in the early nineteenth century were much more inclusive than those of the early twenty-first, when a preference for the Wagnerian-Verdian operatic paradigm focuses critical attention on continuous opera at the expense of such works with spoken dialogue as singspiel or opéra comique. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, librettists and composers moved effortlessly between various types of music drama: they used recitative or spoken dialogue to drive a work’s narrative and wrote incidental music. Spohr could write Faust with spoken dialogue, through-compose Jessonda as continuous music drama, and then return to the use of spoken dialogue in Pietro von Albano and Der Alchymist. Rossini provided Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra with continuous accompanied recitative and returned to recitativo semplice the year after. Weber, likewise . . .

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