|Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles|
The Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles is a centre for the study and performance of French Baroque music, based at the Palace of Versailles. It was founded by Philippe Beaussant and Vincent Berthier de Lioncourt, who were entrusted with the task of founding a musical establishment at Versailles by the French Ministry of Culture in 1987. It opened in 1988 (with Beaussant as its first artistic advisor and de Lioncourt its first director). An adult choir and children's choir (Les Chantres and Les Pages respectively) were added in the following two years.
Jean-Philippe Desrousseaux, concept and direction
Marie Lenormand, mezzo-soprano
Ensemble La Clique des Lunaisiens (6 musicians)
The birth of opera in France in the seventeenth century and its further development in the eighteenth century led to numerous parodies at the Comédie-Italienne and fairground theatres, works that took the original operas as targets. We have identified more than 260 parodies from the eighteenth century alone. These parodies fascinated Parisian audiences; from the common folk to the grandest courtiers, spectators simply could not get enough of them.
Rameau’s first opera, Hippolyte and Aricie, was successfully parodied in 1733 at the Comédie-Italienne de Paris by Riccoboni and Romagnesi, then in 1742 by Favart. It is one of the more accessible parodies nowadays, since Phaedra’s story is well known and its tragic dimension is an ideal target for a burlesque reversal. After all, dramatic parodies are comic pieces that rewrite the opera’s narrative through degradation, discord, and dramatic downplaying. Thus Harlequin, Polichinelle, or Pierrot could be seen playing the hero’s role (Hippolytus, Atys, Cadmus, etc.) in their own way (using gluttony, cowardice, and cunning), thus goddesses were transformed into lustful old women, thus political ambition became petty rivalry, thus the most poignant scenes transform into hilarious moments. But it’s the critical impact of parody that really gives it spice, since it makes fun of poorly executed entertainment, bad scenery, long dances, and implausible theatrical twists and turns.
If these parodies succeeded, it’s because their authors (like Fuzelier, Piron, Favart, and Riccoboni) were talented dramatists. As far as the operatic music is concerned, it isn’t parodied, strictly speaking, but rather is replaced by vaudevilles, well-known songs from the learned or popular repertories, overlaid with new lyrics; this practice runs the gamut from “J’ai du bon tabac” to arias from Lully’s operas that became refrains, like “Quand le péril est agréable” from Atys or “Les trembleurs” from Isis. The audience couldn’t get enough and would often sing along with the performers.
Contrary to what one might imagine, the parody is not a trifling enterprise. Archival research shows that they were quite costly: songs, dances, stage machinery, everything contributed to make the performance “merry, varied, and in fact magnificent,” in the words of the marquis d’Argenson, a great eighteenth-century commentator.
In the eighteenth century, theatrical competition led the Comédie-Française to wage a veritable war against the unofficial theatres at the fairgrounds. The Comédie-Française used its privilège (royal copyright) to forbid the fairground artists at the Foire from performing dialogues, then from performing monologues, then from speaking at all. So they started to sing. The Opera intervened, demanding that the fairground artists pay royalty fees to have the right to sing, which led to the creation of the Opéra-Comique (in 1714). In 1722, the Comédie-Française succeeded in forbidding actors at the Foire. The fairground artists therefore continued by staging puppet shows. And if marionettes had indeed existed for a long time, it was the first time that they were used to create parodies using comic opera, vaudeville, singers, and musicians. It was quite a success. In February 1722, the Regent had himself taken to the Saint-Germain fairground at two in the morning to see a marionette parody! Thus began the golden age of marionette theatre in Paris.
Our offering highlights a vast swath of French cultural heritage, one that was constructed on the margins of the great performances of the Académie royale de musique, and one that touched all kinds of audiences.
Centre d’études des théâtres de la Foire et de la Comédie-Italienne