Critical and analytical chronology of opera performances in Paris and at court from 1655 to 1687
William Brooks, University of Bath, & Buford Norman, University of South Carolina
Need for a chronology
In 1987, the tercentenary of Lully’s death, Quinault and Lully’s opera Atys was given at the Salle Favart in Paris, the first performance of any opera by Lully for well over two hundred years. More performances were given that month, and there followed an international tour, taking in three continents. It was not long before the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, also in Paris, staged a cycle of three of the Quinault-Lully operas: Alceste, Armide, and Roland. The new opera house in Lyon opened in 1993 with the same Phaéton that had been the first opera performed in the old house in 1688. Concert versions of Amadis, Isis, Persée, and Thésée followed, and the two last-named also attracted staged performances in North America. More recently still, Cadmus et Hermione has been given in a concert version. In sum, almost all the operas by Lully and Quinault have been revived, and over the same period there have been performances and recordings of operas by Lully’s contemporaries and successors, composers of the last twenty-five years of the reign of Louis XIV such as Campra, Charpentier, Desmarest, and Marais. Our knowledge of French baroque opera is growing by leaps and bounds.
Whilst William Christie, Philippe Herreweghe, Jean-Claude Malgoire, Marc Minkowski, Christophe Rousset, and their ensembles have been re-establishing both the popularity and the centrality of French baroque opera, they have also made great progress in showing how it was performed. This late twentieth-century epiphany has been greatly assisted by a wide range of critical and historical studies by James R. Anthony, Philippe Beaussant, Catherine Cessac, Manuel Couvreur, Catherine Kintzler, Jérôme de La Gorce, Buford Norman, John S. Powell, Carl B. Schmidt, and Herbert Schneider, to name just a few. Meanwhile, a new edition of Lully’s complete works is under way, and the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, itself both a manifestation of and a reason for the continuation of this resurgence of interest, is now well past its tenth anniversary celebrations. Work done in the previous two or three decades by such important writers as Michel Antoine, Louis Auld, Marcelle Benoît, Robert Donington, Norbert Dufourcq, Robert Fajon, Cuthbert Girdlestone, Robert Isherwood, and Spire Pitou also remains central to our understanding of the material.
In spite of all this industry, one major area still to be addressed is chronology. Given the importance of seventeenth and eighteenth-century opera to what one might call the French cultural patrimony, it is essential to establish as reliable a chronology as possible. It may have been acceptable to function without one – indeed, there was no alternative – in the days before the renewal of interest brought with it not only the desire but also the need for accuracy, but such is no longer the case. The authors of the present study have sought to apply the traditional virtues of patient and painstaking scholarship as well as to take advantage of the innovative opportunities afforded by modern information technology, in order to create a chronological database that is as full as they can make it, whilst remaining capable of amplification and, where necessary, correction, as time goes by.
The preparation of the database was begun in the form of a simple list in 1994. In the time that has elapsed since then, its compilers have extended its scope and defined its objectives, carried out the research, evaluated their findings, and entered the information and their conclusions, whilst at the same time evaluating and including new and relevant secondary material as and when it has been published. At the ten-year mark, and in consultation with colleagues at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, we have decided to release for consultation all the entries covering the period from 1650 up to the end of 1687, the year of Lully’s death. These entries take account of secondary material appearing not later than the early months of 2004. Further entries, taking the database by stages to its intended chronological conclusion, will be released, from time to time, as they are completed.
Overview of our goals
The innovative nature of the technology speaks for itself. Help with the use of the database by researchers is provided as a link from the title page. As to its compilation, the method adopted by the authors can best be described as a root-and-branch revision of what is known in terms of factual information about the early period of French opera. Others have shouldered with application and verve the responsibility for editing scores, interpreting the works, looking for influences, assessing the importance of the operas, and bringing new insights to performance practice. These matters are in capable hands and we leave them there. Our aim, more humble but, we venture to suggest, no less important, is to establish the factual information, and to do so particularly within a chronological context. In so doing, we aim not only to capture and put forward what we believe to be correct, but to explain why we believe it to be correct. At the same time, we also aim to capture and display what we believe to be incorrect, and to explain why we believe it to be incorrect. That is our rationale. The following pages will explain our method and give some intimation and illustration of our findings.
For the most part, the factual history of French opera has been built up incrementally. Eighteenth-century historians deduced, assumed, and guessed; and, despite the responsibility exhibited by some of them, mistakes were made, gaps left – or gaps carelessly filled! – and contradictions initiated. Some nineteenth-century historians such as Nuitter & Thoinan (Les Origines de l’Opéra français) cleared errors away, but others added their own obfuscating layers. The twentieth-century urge to append a chronological list to books and articles has engendered still more layers, and has even engendered more variants, as compilers perpetuate selected findings from their predecessors without saying why they accept some and discard others. The result is a farrago of conflicting and insecure information in hundreds of publications and archives. No one seems to have applied first principles in every single case in order to filter the wrong from the doubtful from the reasonable from the right; no one seems to have set out the reasons for their conclusions. That is what we set out to achieve.
This database is arranged in the form of a critical and analytical chronology of operas and similar works at the Académie Royale, at Court, and elsewhere (principally Paris), covering the period beginning in 1650 and extending, in the first instance, to the end of 1687, the year of Lully’s death. It is hoped to take it, in stages, as far as 1723, the end of the Regency and the beginning of Louis XV’s personal reign. Whilst its primary purpose is to give the dates and venues of all known performances and all performances that can be deduced or presumed, it also sets out to give information about spectators, the principal performers at premieres and on other important occasions, and details of the librettos, all of which is intended to help compensate for the paucity of source materials currently available.
Not only was there much to be done in a positive sense, but also there was much to be swept away. It goes without saying that we capture and give the source of what we believe to be the correct chronology of performances, explaining more fully where necessary and giving details of venues, participants, spectators, librettos, and so on. More than that, however, we also capture and discuss what we call ‘non-performances’ and all the erroneous or doubtful dates, wrongly identified operas, spectators and participants, mistaken venues, and so on, that researchers will come across in published and archive sources. Since researchers will inevitably find such errors, and with them, sometimes, various kinds of conflicting information, there is little point in our presenting only what we believe to be correct, for we will simply add to the unresolved conflicts. What we needed to do was to register the conflicting information, the errors, the half-truths and the well-meant but unsubstantiated guesses, and evaluate all of that too. It is an essential part of this undertaking that we record and correct errors wherever we can, and, no less important, distinguish demonstrable fact from mere deduction, however compelling
A word about the language in which our study is written. We take it as axiomatic that researchers into the history of French opera will have sufficient French to cope with the numerous quotations in that language, for which we have not provided translations. We make no apology for that. We were uncertain whether to use English for the presentation of our information and conclusions, due in no small measure to the fact that all our helpers and advisers in the Centre de Musique Baroque are French, not to mention that we are dealing with French culture, but we concluded that our work would be of more use to more people if we used English. However, the nomenclature used for the fields in the database itself is, by default, in French. This means that strange bilingual contextualizations, such as ‘For further discussion, see Autres noms cités’ will be found. We have become so accustomed to such linguistic schizophrenia ourselves that we have ceased to notice. In addition, since one of the compilers is American, the other British, further contrasts in the use of English occasionally surface. Where ambiguity was created, we took steps to eliminate it; where, however, there is no ambiguity, we concluded that readers would not mind; indeed, at times, they may even find it mildly amusing.
Relative paucity of contemporary records
Historians of the French theatre have at their disposal various precious chronological registers of performances. From 1673, the date of the formation of the Guénégaud theatre (which merged into the Comédie-Française in 1680), daily registers exist which record with almost complete reliability which plays were performed, when, for how many performances, and much other information besides. In respect of Molière’s company, thanks to La Grange’s register, supplemented by those of La Thorillière and Hubert, information of a similar kind, albeit slightly less comprehensive, is known from 1658. (It seems certain that daily registers were kept by the actors of the two other important companies, the Théâtre du Marais and the Hôtel de Bourgogne, but they have been lost.) These registers record not only performances in the public theatres in Paris, but also give insights into, and an almost complete account of, performances given at court in the period. A composite picture and a precise chronology have therefore provided a virtually incontrovertible context for the study of French theatre. As to the Italian actors in Paris, a less complete, but still valuable archive of information relates to the Théâtre-Italien from its re-foundation in 1716, though for the earlier period – from their beginnings up to their expulsion from Paris in 1697 – historians have been obliged to reconstruct their performing record both in Paris and at court from patchy external accounts.
What of the third great auditorium in which staged performances flourished from the 1670s onwards, whose performers also experienced great success at court? The administrators of the Opera – the Académie Royale de Musique, founded in 1672 by Lully after the failure of Perrin’s Académie d’Opéra – have left us no records. In part, no doubt, this is due to the repeated upheavals experienced by the company, whose survival was at times in the balance to a greater extent than was that of the French actors. For whatever reason, contemporary information on the Opera is often sketchy or non-existent. At best, references occur in contemporary writings, usually relating just to premieres or other performances which, for some reason, caught the interest of journalists and diarists (such as performances attended by the Dauphin). At worst, there is nothing. The field was open, therefore, for eighteenth-century historians to deduce, assume, and guess, and the result is that later researchers were obliged to rely willy-nilly on a variety of conflicting sources, spread around in numerous publications and archives, often with no indication of what was established fact and what was guess-work. As a result, the cocktail of accuracy, contradiction, uncertainty, and error was perpetuated.
The best eighteenth-century source, as our own research has often made us aware, is the ‘Histoire de l’Académie Royale de Musique, 1645-1742’, a manuscript history by the Parfaict brothers – mostly by one of them, Claude – an account of the Opera, the value of which need not be disputed. Other eighteenth-century compilers, too, contributed information, less often in the form of continuous chronological history, more often in the form of dictionary-style entries. In all of these cases, however, the compilers were working fifty, eighty, or a hundred years after the events. Where did they get their facts? Scattered details may have been gleaned from numerous sources – here, the date on the title page of a libretto; there, a letter published in the works of someone who was a spectator; elsewhere, an account or even just a mention in that invaluable record of cultural life, the Mercure galant. As a first step in our study, we have ourselves done nothing intrinsically different, though we claim to have been more thorough and more methodical. It is with such contemporary sources that it is appropriate to begin our introductory survey of what is, and was, available to guide the historian of French baroque opera.
Major contemporary sources
Amongst the most obvious of such sources are the various periodicals, monthly, weekly, and even bi-weekly. They aim at accuracy, and have some sense of what is evidence and what is not. Although the inaccessibility to modern researchers of some of these publications, scattered as they are around many libraries, is a problem, as is their occasional tendency to be inaccurate, their biggest drawback, from the opera historian’s point of view, is their lack of comprehensiveness. The primary purpose of the various political and historical gazettes, after all, never was to record performances of operas, and we must be grateful when they do. Foremost among them is the Gazette (anachronistically but frequently referred to nowadays as the Gazette de France), founded in 1631, which covers the whole period of French baroque opera and sometimes provides the only record of performances at court, but has virtually nothing to say about performances in the public theatres in Paris. Moreover, as the King begins to lose interest in the opera in the 1680s, so does the Gazette. From the late 1660s, foreign periodicals inspired by the French example begin to appear; some of these catered to an expatriate, largely Huguenot public, and it is no surprise that they reported events in France in some detail. Amongst these were the Gazette d’Amsterdam, to mention only the best known, to which must be added the Anglophone London Gazette, which also concerned itself extensively with events happening across the Channel. These gazettes sometimes duplicate material in the French sources and sometimes provide other, and occasionally conflicting, information. Alas, they, too, lose interest in the opera over roughly the same period and for the same reasons as their French counterpart. More devoted to cultural matters are the weekly ‘Lettres en vers’ of Jean Loret and his principal successor, Charles Robinet, which are useful for the earliest period and mention both court and city performances of operas. They peter out during the 1670s at roughly the same time as the inception of the Mercure Galant, which after a stuttering start with a few numbers in 1672-74 and 1677, gets going seriously in 1678.
Another source is correspondence, some diplomatic, but much of it private. Some collections extend over many years, including such obvious examples as the letters of Mme de Sévigné and, beginning in the 1670s, those of the second Madame, Elisabeth Charlotte (for our purposes, her letters are richer during her widowhood, after the turn of the century). Other sets of correspondence are concentrated into short periods, such as the letters of Ladvocat collected and published by Jérôme de La Gorce. Some writers make only one or two references useful to historians of the opera, for example, Bussy-Rabutin, Pierre Bayle, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Madame de Maintenon. Amongst diplomatic correspondents are the various English residents in Paris who sent letters to the Foreign Secretary in London – notably William Perwich and the Vernon brothers, James and Francis. In the late 1660s and mid-1670s, several references are found, some of them unique in terms of what they supply to opera historians. As relations between France and England deteriorated, however, and genuine political information became more important, such residents began to have less to say about cultural matters, and when war broke out their embassies were, of course, withdrawn. Other sets of diplomatic correspondence include letters written by the marquis de Saint-Maurice in the late 1660s and early 1670s, published many years ago by Jean Lemoine, and a series of letters sent from Paris, in the early 1680s, to the royal representative in Strasbourg, collected by Rodolphe Reuss, also many years ago. Much more recently, in his magisterial study of Lully, the resourceful and indefatigable Jérôme de la Gorce has mined collections of letters sent by Italian residents in Paris to their political masters, and we have benefited from his industry and plundered his findings, all with due acknowledgement.
Foreign travellers in France, writing home to their families, friends, and associates, or compiling journals of their visit, also made mention of opera performances. Amongst these are John Locke, Adam Ebert, Nicodemus Tessin, Martin Lister, and Joseph Addison, all of whom feature in our study.
Contemporary journals, often written daily, are another source. Those of the marquis de Sourches, and, for the later period, Mathieu Marais and Jean Buvat, are of importance, but the one with the greatest number of references to opera performances is that of Dangeau, who left what amounts almost to a daily record of life at court from 1684 to 1720, so detailed that Saint-Simon later relied heavily upon it for his own memoirs. Saint-Simon himself, covering the later period, though not much given to cultural comment or to precise dating, is not to be ignored.
Individual documents also help. It is in the nature of such things that flimsy individual documents do not survive in great numbers, but the Archives of the Comédie-Française have some relating to the composer Robert Cambert and the librettist Pierre Perrin, both opponents of Lully, and a memoir relating to the singer Catherine Suptille. The Archives Nationales are richer, and the two volumes of documents published in 1884 by Émile Campardon (L’Académie royale de musique au XVIIIe siècle. Documents inédits découverts aux Archives Nationales) are an invaluable source of information for the period he covers.
Finally, some of the most direct evidence comes from editions of opera librettos. Librettos were usually published to accompany performances of new works, and often (though not always), reprises too. At the very least, the year of publication of the libretto is a preliminary indication, and very often the title page also contains the date, or at least the month, of the performance in question – that is, the first performance of a newly created work or that of a reprise.
Problems with contemporary sources: periodicals
This sounds like a good start, and so it is; but alongside the positive advantages of this bounty, we have to consider the possibility that mistakes were made. These are not obvious, unless one has some means of cross-checking.
The trouble is, that even contemporary sources mislead. The Gazette, politically biased but not normally given to factual errors about court activities, unaccountably states that Cadmus et Hermione was performed at Versailles on 28 July 1674, but, as Félibien’s account makes clear, the work given was Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus. We can hazard a guess that an announcement was made that Cadmus et Hermione was to be performed, and that for some reason the choice of work was changed at short notice; but, whatever the reasons, the change was made and the Gazette has left to posterity a credible statement which is none the less wrong.
The Mercure galant is sometimes confused and confusing, perhaps referring to ‘mardi 12’ or ‘jeudi 14’ when it can be calculated that Monday was the 12th day of the month in question. In such circumstances, one has to choose whether to believe the day of the week or the numerical date – or neither. Sometimes, confusion arises because the report, or part of it, relates to the month before, or even two months before, without the discrepancy being made explicit. When such reports give numerical dates without specifying either the month or the day of the week, errors of interpretation can occur.
At other times, in order to avoid being misled, one needs to see a printed correction inserted many pages away from a passage which includes erroneous information: without noticing the correction in the avant-propos to the September 1682 issue of the Mercure, one would not know that the whole of an extensive report, explicitly referring to September throughout, records events which really took place on the same numerical dates in August. An account of performances in February 1702 is wrong by four days from start to finish; and so on.
Problems with contemporary sources: diaries, letters
In the case of diarists, we are sometimes not sure whether the writer has made a mistake, or his subsequent editor, even though we are sure that there is a mistake somewhere. Thus it is that a whole month of Sourches’s diary for November 1682 is given under October, and readers will not become aware of the mistake unless they spot something suspicious and do some cross-checking. Even Dangeau’s Journal, meticulous as its compiler wished it to be, is sometimes a day or two adrift in one direction or the other: he may have omitted to make an entry for a particular day, leaving subsequent entries misdated (either by him or by his editors), or he may subsequently give the correct day of the week but the wrong date (or vice versa). He dates his entries, generally speaking, for the day he is writing about. Sometimes, however, he writes about the events of the previous day, and does not say so. If he starts a day’s entry by writing about the evening’s events, and then proceeds to events which seem to belong to the middle of the day, there is at least a chance that he has started with the events of the previous evening. One cannot make a hard-and-fast rule about it, because of course, sometimes he is following the activities of a particular person, and completes his account of those activities before going back a few hours to pick up someone else. The result of this is that, unless there are other sources to cross-check, one is left in doubt – assuming, of course, that one is even alert to the possible discrepancy. Moreover, from time to time, Dangeau writes up his journal several days in arrears (almost a whole month on one occasion), with all that that may entail in terms of chronological fuzziness, exacerbated by minor slips of memory. Worse, he even writes it up sometimes in advance of the events he describes, with all that that may mean if, for example, a member of the royal family who had decided to go to the opera changes his mind and, in the event, does not go. Thus, when Dangeau reports as a fact that a certain person was a spectator at a performance, at court or in Paris, but the correspondence of that individual contains a statement that conflicts in some way with his account, we have had to come to terms with the uncomfortable reality that Dangeau may have been wrong.
That is, unless the letter writer was the one who made the mistake. Letter writers, too – even those writing in the hour after the events they describe – are not to be trusted blindly. Correspondents, humanly fallible, misdate their letters. They get the year wrong at the beginning of a new year, or the month in a new month; these mistakes should not surprise us. We all do these things ourselves in the twenty-first century. Sometimes, they have idiosyncrasies, such as the second Madame’s occasional use of the word gestern (‘hier’) when she means vorgestern (‘avant-hier’). She also frequently started her often lengthy letters one day and continued writing them over two or three days. Mercifully, she usually makes clear the start of each day’s instalment, but from time to time she does not. These circumstances can play havoc when one needs to rely on time-markers such as ‘yesterday’, ‘today’, and ‘tomorrow’. And of course, sometimes letter writers simply make mistakes and say that something has happened when it has not, or say that it happened but give the wrong date. Letter writers, too, express the intention of attending a performance of an opera: this does not mean that they definitely did so, or even that the performance necessarily took place. Some of their accounts may be hearsay, and it is not always clear that this is so. Not only that, but later editors of correspondence also err: perhaps the writing of the original letter is not clear, and an incorrect date, unproblematic in the context of the correspondence, can mislead commentators who use the letters for an extrinsic purpose such as dating a performance.
Thus it is, for example, that, when the performances of Atys in Fontainebleau in the summer of 1677 are reported retrospectively by Madame on September 23, her most important French translator, Ernest Jaeglé, misreading ‘7br’ (the German formulation used by Madame to indicate the month), prints her letter under the date July 23, making it look as though she was writing in advance of the events she describes and, in consequence, rendering her account less reliable. When one considers the number of occurrences of that device to indicate September (in French, ‘7bre’), October (‘8bre’), November (‘9bre’), and December (‘10bre’) during the many decades that we cover, any of which might carelessly have displaced by two months by later editors, one faces the possibility that such slips have not been recognized and corrected.
Problems with contemporary sources: librettos
Even librettos, such quintessentially contemporary and apparently secure sources, have their drawbacks as evidence. They often carried dates, it is true, but in the absence of corroborative evidence from other sources, we can never be sure that they are correct; sometimes it can be shown that they are not correct, and not necessarily as the result of carelessness. As contemporary documents, the title pages of librettos have a strong claim to be believed, but librettos generally appeared – or at least, were printed – before the performances which their title pages date with such certainty, and circumstances sometimes altered events. A premiere was set for a certain date, but a leading singer might fall ill, the rehearsals not be completed in time, the scenery not be ready, the royal family go into mourning, or the king, impatient for the premiere, order it to take place sooner than planned. Any of these circumstances has the effect of falsifying the date on the title page.
To combat this, some printers took to issuing librettos with the month and year printed but a blank instead of the numerical date, intending that the blank be filled in by the purchaser. (Sometimes, not even the month and year are stated, but the blank space is provided.) The trouble is that often it was filled in. How are we to know whether the inserted date is correct, completed by a fastidious contemporary purchaser, or was added years later by someone who gleaned it from a dictionary? Either way, as soon as Beffara or Lajarte quotes it, without saying it is a manuscript addition, the date acquires the sheen of authority. A similar problem occurs when a libretto printed at the time of a reprise of the work, one, two, ten, or twenty years later, includes a date or a venue for some previous performance, such as the premiere. The 1682 libretto of Alceste claims that that work was performed at Fontainebleau in January 1675 – at a time when we know, from other sources, that the court was at Saint-Germain and was being entertained by Thésée. Not everyone would necessarily recognize the discrepancy – especially when it is less obviously wrong (in this instance, the court was never at Fontainebleau in the winter) – and the closeness of the date to the event it describes lends spurious authority to the claim. Once the information is gleaned from such apparently unimpeachable sources by later historians, however venerable or careful, it is almost unavoidable that later writers, in their turn, will perpetuate the error.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources: the Journal de l’Opéra
Reissued librettos provide only one example of a different kind of evidence: that is, they constitute early, but not contemporary evidence. Without necessarily ignoring such evidence as they could glean from contemporary sources, later writers relied on a mixture of common sense, deduction, inference, and plain guesswork, some of it rather wild. Nothing is necessarily wrong with the more responsible end of that spectrum as a method, but unless historians say what has been demonstrated beyond doubt and what has a less secure pedigree – and what is simply wrong – they cannot help but create a layer of uncertainty, and, at times, obfuscation. Not only is there a tendency amongst even later writers (let us say, in the nineteenth century and since) to accept uncritically the assertions of the more responsible of their predecessors, but even before that, it is plain that all the earlier historians of opera (let us say, eighteenth-century historians) influenced each other, so that in spite of some glaring discrepancies, a kind of tradition builds up, consigned to posterity as truth, in the works even of those writers who command and deserve our greatest respect.
In the Bibliothèque de l’Opéra in Paris, there exists an impressive series of registers known as the ‘Journal de l’Opéra’. This document deserves to be taken seriously, but has been regarded by more than one historian as the Holy Grail of truth, and it is treated with the confidence that should be reserved only for a genuine contemporary register. It is no such thing. What it is, rather, is an attempt – reasonably meant, seriously undertaken, responsibly executed – to record on paper all of the performances in chronological order, with the addition of additional material and comment in some cases. It is a late eighteenth or, more likely, nineteenth-century manuscript which purports to recreate a daily list of performances at the Palais-Royal in the manner of the daily ‘Registres’ that are to be found in the archives of the Comédie-Française. It is mostly the work of two compilers, who wrote in ink and are distinguished by their different handwriting; there are a few pencilled additions and amendments in a third hand. The two principal compilers sometimes disagree with one another. The ‘Journal’ postdates the work of the Parfaict brothers, which is cited in places, and at least one of the compilers had knowledge of Beffara’s research. In other words, it postdates by at least one hundred years the events it records. Each page consists of a simple form: rectos are printed with the month and year, and facing versos carry the heading ‘Notes’. The compilers have filled in the rectos in the manner of a daily register, and the versos contain remarks about the works featured on the facing recto. Occasionally, financial information is also included. Some pages are full, whilst others are blank or nearly blank. We cannot but record our admiration for the undertaking, but at the same time we emphasize that it is no more trustworthy than anything else that relies on previously published material and sensitive guesswork. The compilers reproduce dates offered by earlier researchers for premieres, reprises, and other notable performances, and occasionally give their sources. This, on its own, would be unexceptionable, albeit subject to scrutiny and confirmation. In addition, however, they insert the dates of intervening ordinary regular performances which they have evidently deduced, having regard to the days on which performances were generally given at the Opéra. These deduced dates are almost always plausible, but unless they are supported by other evidence they must be regarded with circumspection. We have explicitly indicated where entries are probably or categorically incorrect. Sometimes, its mistakes are grossly misleading. The ‘Journal’ ignores Jubilees and, often, periods of national mourning when the theatres were closed. It often ignores the dates of closure before and after Easter. It ignores regular dates of closure for religious festivals. We acknowledge that it is frequently correct; it is frequently supported by other evidence, some of it conclusive; but it is also too often wrong, and very often speculative without any supporting information. We have used it, but we have noted its potential unreliability on each and every occasion that we have cited it, by referring the reader to a detailed explanatory note.
It might be argued that the ‘Journal de l’opéra’ should simply be ignored. This, however, is not possible because it was explicitly accepted at face value and consequently given apparent authority by so many later writers. Not only explicitly, but implicitly, too: we have found unsupported dates given confidently in the works of a number of writers that cannot be traced to any source unless it be the ‘Journal’. Consequently, it is plain that we must record what it says, and indicate the level of confidence that can be accorded it in each case. Sometimes the evidence is thin, but there seems no reason to reject it outright. When the ‘Journal’ claims that Pomone, premiered in April 1671, was performed each month for the rest of the year, there is no strong reason to disagree, and certainly we know of no other work being performed at this time; we have therefore reproduced this claim, and shown that our source is the ‘Journal’. It is for the user of the present study, cautioned by our explanatory note, to decide what reliance can be placed upon such a claim.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources: biographies
Less pervasive in their influence, and sometimes outstandingly useful, are the two biographies – one published, the other manuscript – of Philippe Quinault, composed by the early eighteenth-century literary historian Boscheron. Quinault was Lully’s principal librettist, and these biographies also contain an account of the origins of opera in France, so their importance is obvious. Boscheron, whose first name is not known, was probably in the employment of the abbé Bignon, Pontchartrain’s nephew and the king’s librarian; he therefore had access to important sources. In addition, he acted as Paris correspondent for the ‘Journal littéraire’, a Dutch literary periodical published in The Hague, and was for a time the friend of Robert Challes, best known as the author of ‘Les Illustres Françaises’. He left a number of editions and biographies, concerning, for example, François Charpentier, Étienne Pavillon, and Antoine Varillas, and some indifferent poetry. His biographies are by no means identical; sometimes the later version contradicts information given in the earlier, not necessarily with justification. Sometimes they are complementary: that is, information omitted from one is contained in the other. Sometimes one merely confirms the other. Sometimes Boscheron is the unique source of information about certain performances. Sometimes, cross-checking with other sources shows him to have made mistakes, but often it shows him to be correct.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources: the Parfaict brothers
A third major early source is the ‘Histoire de l’Académie Royale de Musique, 1645-1742’, the work of the Parfaict brothers, Francois and Claude. François died in October 1753, after a long illness, and it is likely that much of the manuscript is the responsibility of Claude alone. We have generally preferred to use a copy made by the historian Louis-François Beffara (1751-1838), which has the advantage of annotations and corrections made by Beffara himself. Beffara was a serious musicographer and historian who sought out and used checkable sources and whose statements of opinion also deserve implicit respect. In this instance, he faithfully and accurately records the original manuscript, and one can clearly identify Beffara’s own additions and corrections. Beffara himself left a manuscript ‘Dictionnaire de l’Académie Royale de Musique’, compiled around 1783-84. Both his ‘Dictionnaire’ and his copy of the ‘Histoire’ were made to assist him in writing his fabled eighty-volume manuscript history of the Paris opera, bequeathed to the Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville and destroyed in the fire laid by the Commune in 1871.
Claude Parfaict published an important seven-volume Dictionnaire des théâtres de Paris in 1767, which covers operas as well as spoken plays. The extensive contributions by P.-F.-G. de Beauchamps and Antoine de Léris are often cited by modern historians and must therefore be taken into account, and many other eighteenth-century writers make occasional references and so left their mark on the steadily accumulating history of opera.
Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sources
In the nineteenth century, Théodore de Lajarte’s Bibliothèque musicale du Théâtre de l’Opéra: Catalogue historique, chronologique, anecdotique, which appeared in two volumes in 1878, relies heavily on the work of the Parfaict brothers and has acquired, in its turn, the status of an authoritative account, much favoured by later writers. Particularly worthy of note is the work of Nuitter & Thoinan on the origins of French opera, published eight years later. In the twentieth century, Henry Prunières wrote extensively about Lully, and in 1926, Étienne Gros completed the first really serious study of Philippe Quinault, which included a great deal of information about the early years of French opera. Two essential volumes by Pierre Mélèse, one of which – his Répertoire analytique des documents contemporains d’information et de critique concernant le théâtre à Paris sous Louis XIV, 1659-1715 is, as the title implies, a gold mine of fascinating and helpful details – are also amongst the important contributions to our knowledge of the period.
Although Mélèse, in particular, culled much of his information from original sources, it remains the case that all of these individually admirable, suggestive, and rich accounts rely to some extent upon on each other, creating a patchwork of cross-influence and the perpetuation of mistakes, alongside valid assertions and deductions both reasonable and implausible. This state of affairs has continued to exist for over two hundred years and will doubtless continue to do so, both challenging and infuriating those who seek a path through it. Each writer has done much to accept and perpetuate the findings of earlier writers. Some have argued the point about certain dates – from Étienne Gros to Jérôme de La Gorce there is an impressive roll-call of thoughtful chronologists who do not necessarily accept what their predecessors said – but few such writers explicitly consider what is evidence, what is assertion, what is deduction, what is reasonable and what is not, what is plainly wrong and what is incontrovertibly right – and none does it for the whole canvas of French baroque opera. With that in mind, we have declined to accept as a fact anything that cannot be demonstrated, identifying palpable errors, making plain that we have inferred what we infer, and distinguishing the inferences of our illustrious predecessors from what is fact. We take comfort in the assurance that, where we have erred, it will be obvious why we have done so, as our reasoning is set out, and those who come after us will be able to correct us the more readily (and securely) as they will be able to see exactly how we arrived at our conclusions.
Not that we dismiss or hesitate to record deductions and even sensible conjecture. On the contrary, we report – explicitly as deductions and conjecture – the opinions of writers whose eminence and seriousness of purpose lend their pronouncements an undeniable air of authority. Such is the case, for example, with Philippe Beaussant, whose statement that a rehearsal of Alceste took place on 8 January 1674 is utterly reasonable – the company must have rehearsed it on a date so close to the premiere – but there is no proof, as such, and Beaussant’s reason for his assertion lies in the construction he places on some words of Mme de Sévigné. We are happy to follow him to his conclusion; we think he is right; and we record this date as one upon which there was a rehearsal: but we make the appropriate comment to ensure that the status of the information we record is transparent.
The example of Atys: court performances
To illustrate the importance of our insistence upon first principles, let us consider various accounts of the early performance history of one particular opera, Quinault and Lully’s Atys.
Atys was first given in January 1676, at Saint-Germain, in those days still the principal residence of the court. ‘Le 10 de ce mois’, reports the Gazette dated 18 January, ‘Leurs Majestez [...] prirent ici pour la première fois, dans la Salle des Balets, au Vieux-Château, le Divertissement d’une Tragédie en Musique.’ From the eighteenth century to the present day, opera historians have lined up behind that statement as if it proves that Atys was premiered on that occasion, yet, as evidence, it has weaknesses. The Gazette says only that their Majesties saw for the first time a ‘tragédie en musique’ that it does not name. In other words, it does not say they saw Atys and it does not say that what they saw was a premiere.
Despite this, later historians rely on the Gazette alone for the date of the premiere of Atys. Or, to be more precise, if they are alert to other, corroborating evidence, they do not choose to offer it. In fact, there is other evidence. The date on which something was performed is secure from the Gazette. It is virtually certain that Atys was the work given, because Charles de Sévigné, writing on the 12th, says that Mme de Lafayette finds the libretto of Atys disappointing. Moreover, the libretto of Atys was published at about this time, and its title page states unequivocally that it was given on the 10th at Saint-Germain.
None of which proves that it was the premiere that their Majesties attended. From time to time, after all, the Gazette does report performances other than the first. We have already mentioned that dates on the title pages of librettos are not always correct. Still, there would have to be an overwhelming set of misleading coincidences in all this evidence to falsify the generally held belief that Atys was premiered at Saint-Germain on January 10. In truth, it seems to us completely reliable; we accept it; we record it; but we make sure that the evidence is presented and not presumed by default.
To confuse matters, Quinault’s biographer Boscheron gives the date of the premiere of Atys as 12 January 1676. We think this is wrong, but we cannot rule out the possibility that a second performance was given on that day. Finally, Jérôme de La Gorce, whose opinion always commands respect, also favours January 12. We have sought to show why we think he is wrong, on this occasion.
After the premiere, histories of the opera assure us, Atys was performed roughly once a week for the rest of the carnival period. But was it? Not a single letter-writer, diarist, or published journal that we know of reports further performances of Atys in January and February 1676. Records of the previous year and subsequent years show that several performances of one or more operas were given at court during each carnival period, but we cannot prove it for Atys. We indicate, in an appropriate entry, the intention to perform the opera in the weeks following its premiere, but this is clearly anticipatory evidence and it lacks the status of retrospective evidence, still less proven fact. Doubtless Atys was given several times at court in January and February 1676, partly because of the typical pattern, and partly because the king would never have spent so much money on a solitary performance: but that is deduction. We trust we have made this clear.
The example of Atys: Paris performances
Generally speaking – but there are exceptions – when an opera ceased to be wanted at court, Lully took it to Paris, where he made a fortune from audiences swelled by news of its triumph. Thus, the Paris premiere of Atys took place in April the same year, 1676. Or did it? Those who look up that opera in Lajarte’s Catalogue historique de l’opéra will learn that the premiere took place in August 1675. Has Lajarte taken leave of his senses? On the contrary, his claim is borne out by the ‘Journal de l’opéra’. Nearer to our own day, Spire Pitou states, both in the alphabetical entry in the first volume of his important history of the Paris Opera and in an appended chronological list of performances, that the Paris premiere took place in August 1675. Even to a researcher who is already aware that the court premiere took place in January of the following year, such a date for the Paris premiere is not an intellectual impossibility. After all, Lully created his first two operas, Cadmus et Hermione and Alceste, in Paris, and only brought them to court afterwards; and, as the same is true of some of his later operas, there is no reason, prima facie, for the person who consults Lajarte and Pitou to doubt the information they give – still less for the researcher who goes to the Bibliothèque de l’Opéra and consults the manuscript of the apparently authoritative ‘Journal de l’Opéra’.
Let us suppose our imaginary researcher reaches instead for one of the oldest and most respected general dictionaries covering the Paris Opera, Parfaict’s Dictionnaire des théâtres de Paris. It states that the Paris premiere of Atys took place in August 1677, a date which is different again, but just as wrong. Why has the error occurred? We do not know for certain, but Atys was given at Fontainebleau that very month, and there is a Paris edition of the libretto which says so. We surmise that the error is topological rather than chronological. In other words, for some reason, Parfaict simply did not notice that the Paris libretto was issued for a Fontainebleau performance, and assumed it was for a Paris performance.
We are convinced that the Paris premiere took place in April 1676; but on which day? Thésée, Lully’s previous opera, ran until Easter. The company ordinarily used the Easter closing to prepare for a new production. Easter Sunday fell on April 5. The most likely date for the resumption of performances was Tuesday April 14. In some years, the Opera re-opened on the second Monday after Easter rather than the second Tuesday, but that is another story: the essential point is that Atys was premiered in mid-April or soon after. We cannot actually rule out the possibility that Thésée was returned to the stage for a few days after Easter, in which case Atys might have been performed only from the beginning of May: that, at least, is the opinion of Étienne Gros. It was uncommon for an opera to be returned to the stage for a few more performances after Easter, but it did happen occasionally in the later years of Louis XIV’s reign and we cannot be absolutely certain that it never happened when Lully was in charge. We are inclined to set aside Gros’s date, but the terminus ante quem for the Paris premiere can be established, for Mme de Sévigné and some friends went to see a performance at the Palais-Royal on Tuesday May 5, and she penned an interesting account in a letter. Étienne Gros, by the way, says that Mme de Sévigné saw the opera on Tuesday May 26: there was almost certainly a performance that day, but Mme de Sévigné was in Vichy.
Jaeglé’s slip involving the reading of ‘7br’ as July , the erroneous dates for the Paris premiere, and Gros’s mistake about Mme de Sévigné in May 1676, all merit their own entries alongside both the plausible and the demonstrably correct in our ‘chronologie critique et analytique’. Indeed, our very first entry (first, that is, in chronological order) concerns an error: we do not believe that Le Triomphe de l’amour sur des bergers & des bergères, which has some claim to being the first opera-like work in French and which preceded by some years the better-known Pastorale d’Issy, was given in 1650. Accordingly, we record that date, showing why we believe it to be an error, and indicate our own preference for the date – which most authorities accept – in 1655.
Often, it is asserted that a particular date is that of the premiere of a work, and even though we accept that the work was performed on that date, we do not believe the performance was the premiere. The reason for such assertions is not always clear. Boscheron’s date for Atys, mentioned above, is one such unexplained example, but sometimes, we believe, writers are influenced by the belief that the dauphin attended premières of operas: the argument, therefore, seems to be that if the dauphin attended on a particular date (especially if Dangeau says that ‘Monseigneur alla à Paris voir le nouvel opéra’), it must have been the premiere. Whilst it is true that the dauphin did attend premieres, with and without his half-sister the princesse de Conti, he also frequently shunned the premiere and attended, instead, second and even third performances, by which time he had received some account of the work’s initial reception. ‘Le nouvel opéra’, after all, means no more than that the opera was a new work. It does not explicitly indicate the premiere. The dauphin also frequently attended final performances of the run of an opera, or performances close to the end of the run, especially of particularly successful works, and this can sometimes help to suggest, if not establish, the date of the end of a series of performances.
Scope of the database: works included, types of performance, and range of dates in the 2004 release
This study covers everything that formed part of the repertory of the Académie Royale de Musique, as well as operas performed at court, mostly by the same forces, whether the King was present or not. (He usually was.) Thus, in addition to what may strictly be termed ‘operas’, we have included ballets if they were performed at the Académie Royale de Musique or, at court, by the forces of the Académie. We have included some early opera-like works done at court – for example, La Pastorale d’Issy, Les Amours de Diane et d’Endimion – but we exclude the court ballets (‘ballets de cour’) which became popular long before the rise of opera and continued to be performed at court on a regular basis until the early 1670s, and mascarades, curious ballet-like fantasies popular at court in the 1690s and 1700s and often mentioned by chroniclers in the same context as operatic entertainments but which cannot, by any yardstick, qualify as operas. From the same period, we have excluded parodies of identifiable operas (usually performed by the Italians or at the Foires), though occasionally their existence is called in evidence when we discuss the works they parody.
On the other hand, we have included some works that were not strictly operatic but which were performed at court by, or which became associated with, the Académie Royale: ‘petits opéras’ (Desmarest’s Diane de Fontainebleau, for example), small-scale works of a loosely operatic nature done for court entertainment, divertissements with a narrative theme (Le Carnaval, for example), and other productions of uncertain genre such as the Églogue de Versailles and the Idylle sur la Paix. We have been mindful that many such seventeenth-century works do not satisfy a modern definition of opera, but because they are likely to be mentioned in contemporary accounts as ‘opéras’, we decided to include them. This caveat also applies to a number of works, often now lost, described as ‘opéras’ in contemporary accounts following their performance in private houses; these, too, we have included.
Rehearsals are rarely mentioned in contemporary sources, and do not loom large in our study. Even so, we have included them when the source is unequivocal, and also where discussion of unclear information seems to us potentially helpful in understanding the public or court performances (or absence of performance) of the works rehearsed. In any case, the word répétition sometimes applies, not to a rehearsal but to what would be called, in modern terms, a concert performance: that is, an unstaged performance. The meaning of the word is not always clear from the context, nor is it always clear whether a performance was staged, or not. We have done our best to show what we think to have been the case. We have occasionally mentioned performances in other places, e.g. Lyon, when we have some cause to accept the accuracy of the information, but we have not taken account of the vast quantity of provincial performances of Lully’s operas unearthed by Carl Schmidt and published in his article in Heyer’s Jean-Baptiste Lully, pp. 183-211.
To sum up, we have taken the view that omission is likely to cause more confusion than inclusion, even where inclusion may appear unnecessary to some users of our work. If we have erred in our choices, it has been, quite deliberately, on the side of inclusiveness.
The organic development of the present database has taken a long time. We became increasingly conscious that, if we were to wait until we had gone as far as we could, not only we would make prospective users wait many more years for it, but also our chronological progress would be impeded by the constant need to revisit the early years to take account of newly published material. As noted above, therefore, the 2004 release of the database, accordingly, covers the period 1650 to 1687 only.
Scope of the database: performance days and non-performances
In the public auditoria in Paris, performances of operas took place on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays in winter – roughly, from St Martin’s Day, November 11, to the Thursday before the Opera closed for Easter or to the Thursday one week before Ascension Day – and on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays in the summer, that is, for the rest of the year. Although we have presumed that researchers consulting our work are likely to be aware of this fact, we have from time to time mentioned it in our discussion of dates.
It is not clear when Thursday performances, which in the early part of the period ceased before Easter, were extended for the extra few weeks to the week before Ascension Day. We have not found mention of Thursday performances after Easter in the period up to and including 1680, and are inclined to suspect there were none. By the mid-1680s, however, it is clear that Thursday performances took place after Easter. This may have been an ad hoc response to public demand, given the considerable success of the operas being performed at that time; or it may have been a strategic competitive response to the fact that the principal rivals of the Opera, the actors of the Comédie-Française, had begun to perform, ordinarily, on seven days of the week after the foundation of that company in August 1680. In the latter case, Thursday performances in the period in question may have begun as early as 1681. We do not know; and it is necessary, therefore, to bear in mind our uncertainty when assessing what happened after Easter in the early 1680s.
The opera closed for two, sometimes three, weeks before Easter, and for one week afterwards, reopening on the Tuesday nine days after Easter Sunday. Sometimes it reopened on Monday, i.e., the day before, and a performance was given on that day as well as on the following day. It was always closed on Pentecost Sunday. Other days which in many years were normal performance days by day of the week but on which the Opera was dark, were February 2 (Candlemas, one of the ‘jours de la Vierge’), September 8 and December 8 (other ‘jours de la Vierge’), August 15 (Assumption), November 1 (Toussaint: All Saints’ Day) and Christmas Day. Another such day, March 25 (Annunciation), often fell within the normal period of Easter closure, so its effect was not always felt, but if it occurred beforehand, the Opera was dark that day.
Mourning for the death of the Queen (1683) and the Dauphine (1690) also closed the opera, as did the dreadful cold period in the winter of 1709, the deaths of other members of the royal family in the terrible years 1711-12, and mourning for Louis XIV himself in 1715 and for Madame in 1722. From time to time, the Pope would declare a Jubilee, a period of general indulgence and remission of the consequences of sin, and there were no performances in public theatres whilst it lasted. Jubilees, originally instituted in 1300, were at first declared once every 100 years, but by the late seventeenth century, their frequency had increased to once every few years, to the dismay of both theatregoers and the performers whose incomes suffered. There were Jubilees in 1677, 1684, and 1696, each forcing the closure of the opera for a lengthy period.
There were other ad hoc exceptions, both in relation to performances on other days of the week, and absence of performances on some of the expected days. Sometimes, performances took place on Saturday and Monday at the end of Carnival. Sometimes, a Monday performance replaced the Sunday performance when the Sunday was a Feast Day in its own right. Where we are aware of these exceptions, we have mentioned them. Many commentators simply seem not to notice these interruptions to the normal pattern of performances.
Consequently, in addition to what was performed, we have also included what we call non-performances, by which we mean days when there might have been performances but were not, or even days when later writers say there were performances but are wrong. Many a writer states that a work was performed uninterruptedly from one date to another, and whilst it may be true that only one work was being performed on a regular basis between the starting and finishing dates, researchers could well assume, if not warned, that the work being performed was indeed given on some particular day in the period. Consequently, when we have evidence – or there is a strong presumption – that none was given on a particular date, we say so. Needless to say, we make it quite clear when we are relying on evidence and when we have presumed.
From the beginning of 1674, we believe that, subject to the exceptions discussed above, performances took place on normal performance days more or less without exception, throughout the year. However, explicitly attested confirmation of most performances is lacking. In order to reconcile the virtual certainty of performances with the relative absence of proof, we have evolved and included two interlinked kinds of entry. The first kind of entry (or ‘fiche’) relates to an entire month, or part of a month. These generally have a date field which ends with the figures ‘00’ in place of a precise date. In other words, where 1675.10.17 means October 17, 1675, the date field 1675.10.00 means all other unspecified normal performance dates in October 1675. The entry covers the work or works being performed that month, and indicates what evidence there may be. Unless otherwise indicated by the use of the defining terms ‘information incertaine’, etc., the information for the month in question is considered to be reliable but no explicit evidence of performances on given days within the month is available.
The second kind of entry is what we have called a ‘fiche-renvoi’ (‘cross reference entry’). Fiches-renvoi contain in the date field explicit reference to each of the normal performance dates for the month in question that are not already included in date fields elsewhere in the database. Accordingly, from 1674 onwards, all possible dates for performances at the Académie Royale de Musique are either in an entry (‘fiche’) dedicated to the date in question, or are included in general entries for each month which may be located via the fiches-renvoi.
It follows, therefore, that any date in 1674 or later which cannot be located in this database is either not a normal performance day by day of the week (in other words, a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday in winter; and one of those three days or a Thursday in summer) or, if it is, then it lies during the period of Easter closing of the Académie Royale de Musique.
At court, it was quite a different matter. For practical purposes, court performances were often on days when the company was not performing in Paris – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays in winter, for example – but, as Lully eventually acquired enough performers to operate in both places, it is impossible to be categorical. Court performances do, therefore, occur on every possible day of the week. We are reasonably certain that Lully had to abandon Paris performances in order to perform at court in the 1670s, and we have made clear in entries relating to Paris performances in that period that unattested performances on certain days cannot safely be presumed. We suspect that he began to be able to perform in both places at once by the early 1680s, so that by 1682 or 1683 the interruptions to Paris performances caused by the need to perform at court were many fewer. The nature of the works being performed, and Lully’s requirement for specific performers, must have had an effect on what actually happened.
Whilst the public theatres continued to operate in the first few weeks of Lent, Court performances on and after Mardi Gras are exceptionally rare, but an example occurred in 1680 when the new Dauphine arrived at Saint-Germain during Lent, and Proserpine was given as part of the celebrations to welcome her. At court, mourning for less important members of the royal family and more distant relatives interrupted plans for opera performances, for example after the deaths of Charles II, King of England (Louis XIV’s first cousin), and the prince de Conti.
Problems we have encountered
Let us review a few problems we have faced. Étienne Gros, who makes the uncharacteristic error about Mme de Sévigné’s attendance at a performance of Atys, also claims that after the uninterrupted run of Bellérophon which finished in October 1679 – one of Lully’s greatest triumphs – that opera continued to alternate with Cadmus et Hermione. In fact, the props had been carted off to Saint-Germain to be ready for performances at court. The Mercure for October 1679 is categorical: ‘on a cessé de jouer [Bellérophon] à Paris pour avoir le temps de se disposer à le faire paroistre à Saint-Germain’, but the Mercure is not readily accessible to most researchers and anyone consulting Gros will be misled. Why, then, does Gros think otherwise? We believe that it is on the strength of a rather laconic comment by the Frères Parfaict: ‘Nous croyons que [Cadmus et Hermione and Thésée] tinrent le théatre jusqu’au mois de Novembre 1680 à l’aide de quelques représentations de Bellérophon’. Indeed they did; but the contribution of Bellérophon to the run had ceased within the first few weeks of the period the Parfaict brothers are alluding to.
Another problem is that of misprints or slips in normally reliable authorities. Thus, Antoine de Léris records the premiere of Bellérophon on 28 January 1679, a Saturday, but it really took place the following Tuesday. Even if we did not have other evidence of the correct date, we would suspect he must be wrong, because on the 28th, one of Bussy-Rabutin’s correspondents wrote from Paris that ‘on attend l’opéra de Bellérophon avec impatience, car la plupart des gens n’auroient rien à faire s’ils n’alloient là’. However, who, in normal circumstances, having ascertained the date from Léris, is likely to look for independent confirmation? Léris is considered by many commentators very nearly the equal of the Frères Parfaict when it comes to careful chronology and responsible commentary. Elsewhere, he gives a performance of Lully and Thomas Corneille’s opera Psyché on 9 April 1678, manifestly an error as that was the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Day – but you would not know if you did not consult a calendar. Gros, to quote another example, dates a performance of Psyché to 19 April 1679, when it can be shown that it took place on the same date in 1678. In the appendix to his invaluable biography of Lully, Philippe Beaussant dates the first court performance of Alceste to 4 October 1674 when in fact it took place on July 4, and although he gets the date right in his narrative, anyone consulting the chronological list at the back of his book will be misled. Some historians change their minds completely between one publication and the next, or become more convinced – or more circumspect – about what they report. That is, of course, only to be expected. Responsible historians take serious account of new information. We should not wish to be thought unfair, therefore, when we record that someone says one thing, and later another, for we consider ourselves obliged to capture these differences in our study. After all, any such writer’s original opinion has as much likelihood of being discovered by other researchers as the same writer’s revised one, even though the revised one is the one the writer would wish to have attributed to him or her. We must make it clear from the outset, therefore, that we are not suggesting wilfulness or carelessness when, as often, we report conflicting information given by one and the same writer.
Some ideas have gained something of a pedigree over the years. One such is that Lully’s opera Cadmus et Hermione was already being performed before Molière died in February 1673. This is first asserted, so far as we can tell, by the historian Beauchamps, but as recently as the 1950s it was still being perpetuated as fact, despite all the work done by generations of historians to show that Lully’s opera was not ready at this time. The idea that the king immediately gave the auditorium of the Palais-Royal to Lully – another error – is bound up with this hoary notion. We believe – and have stated, with our arguments – that Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus was being performed, at that time, in Lully’s original auditorium, the jeu de paume de Bel-Air in the rue de Vaugirard, premises which he was happy to leave when the chance arose, but which he retained through the summer until some time in the Autumn, when he restored them to their original state, handed them back to their owners, and removed at last to the Palais-Royal. On the other hand, Lully cannot have premiered Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus in March or April 1672 at the jeu de paume de Bel-Air, and performed it there for the King in August of that year, as Parfaict states, first, because he did not even have that theatre at that time (he signed the lease on August 12), and second, because the work was not ready. In this instance, our own refutation was pre-empted, over a hundred years ago, when that careless statement was comprehensively demolished by Nuitter & Thoinan, but not everyone has read what is one of the most important works on the early history of French opera, and the erroneous claim is still sometimes seen in more recent works devoted to the period.
It is all very well, it may be objected, for us to assert that such errors may mislead; but do they, in fact, do so? The answer is yes. Another respected historian, Pierre Mélèse, states that the premiere of Thésée took place on 12 January 1675, and misleads the doyen of French baroque experts, James R. Anthony, who inserts that date in his important entry in New Grove. Mélèse correctly dates the premiere of Isis to 5 January 1677, but places it at the Palais-Royal. Anyone who did not already know that it took place at Saint-Germain would presumably believe him.
Contents of the fields of the database: labels
Finally, it is time to sum up what we include in the various fields in the database which constitutes our ‘chronologie critique et analytique’. Since the fields are designated in French, we use the French terms below. Field names followed by an asterisk may be searched via a list of searchable terms (‘recherche par lexique’).
Auteur de la fiche*. Gives the name of the authors of the entries. In all cases, both authors are responsible for the content of the entry.
Fiabilité de la source*. We have used this field to indicate briefly whether the information in the entry is uncertain, doubtful, or wrong. If it is marked as ‘information incertaine’, this means we feel it is probably correct but cannot be proved. If it is marked as ‘information douteuse’, this means we feel it is probably incorrect but that we cannot prove it to be so. The marker ‘erreur’ speaks for itself. Any entry which is not marked in one of these ways is, according to us, certainly correct in its essentials, though we may draw attention in the discursive fields of our entry to ancillary or minor details that we are less sure of.
We have asked ourselves about the conspicuousness of erroneous information; in other words, is it worth reporting an error made in a little known source? Our answer is that, if we have discovered it, others can discover it, and we ought to record it.
Représentation*. We indicate two principal pieces of information. First, whether the performance is a première, a first performance at court of a work premièred in Paris (or vice versa), a reprise, or a performance to mark the re-opening of the theatre after a period of closure. If no information is given, then it is simply a performance which happens to be one of a series. Second, in all cases, we indicate whether the work was performed at court, in Paris (by which we mean at the Palais-Royal or its predecessor venues such as the jeu de paume du Bel-Air), or in a private house (‘chez un particulier’). This means, for example, that anyone searching for all performances of a given work at court (‘À la cour’) will not need to search additionally for first performances at court (‘Première représentation à la cour’), because both markers are given.
We have used the generic term ‘À la cour’ to indicate performances wherever they occurred, even if not in one of the King’s palaces – some performances were given, for example, at Monsieur’s house at Saint-Cloud – and even if the members of the royal family present did not include the King. Thus we have used the term for Mazarin’s apartment at Vincennes and also for the apartments, at Saint-Germain and Versailles, of numerous private individuals whom we regard as ‘courtiers’ and who arranged performances in their private apartments.
In this field, also, we have indicated when what is being discussed is a rehearsal, a concert version, or a partial performance. Where, on the other hand, the entry posits the absence of a performance on a given day or during a given series of days, this too is indicated under ‘représentation’.
Catalogue Philidor*. This catalogue number is a unique identifier for the entry. It always bears a close relationship, and often an exact relationship, to the date of the performance being discussed. Since there could have been performances in different locations on the same date, and since historians have sometimes suggested the same date for different performances, some catalogue numbers are followed by ‘.a’, ‘.b’, etc. Where more than one performance requires the same set of comments (e.g., if a single source relates to a series of performances over several days), the performances are grouped within one entry. Researchers seeking individual dates within the series can still locate them via the ‘Dates’ field (see below). The catalogue numbers of fiches-renvoi (see above) are followed by ‘x’.
However, in the belief that it contributes to clarity, we have always made a different entry for a different month. For example, a series of performances meriting entirely the same comments but taking place in both January and February will have two separate entries, each cross-referred to the other, and two distinct catalogue numbers.
Contents of the fields of the database: authors, titles, dates
Titre oeuvre*, Compositeur(s)*, Librettiste(s)*, Chorégraphe(s)*. These fields are usually unproblematic. No discussion can take place in these searchable fields. Where the identity of the composer or the librettist is open to question, discussion takes place in the ‘Attribution’ field mentioned below. The choreographer rarely changed during the course of a run, but sometimes a source relating to a particular performance mentions a different choreographer. In such cases, we make a special point of capturing it.
As far as the titles of works are concerned, any discussion is undertaken in some other appropriate discursive field within the entry. For example, the erroneous information that Les Fêtes de l’Amour et Bacchus was performed at Versailles in July 1674 is captured and shown to be incorrect, as is the altogether more grotesque claim, made by an important and respected historian, that Lully inaugurated the Palais-Royal with a performance of his defeated rival’s opera Pomone in June 1673 – at a time when work to convert the auditorium had not even begun.
Genre musical*. This field enables us to state whether the work is, for example, a pastorale, a tragédie en musique, a tragédie-ballet, or some other form of entertainment.
Attribution. Questions about unknown, uncertain, or misattributed authorship are discussed in this field. Occasionally, it is necessary to elucidate possible areas of confusion. Amongst composers, for example, it could otherwise be quite baffling when writers confuse Lully’s three sons with each other – and even with their father – or do not know their ‘Marais’ (Marin Marais) from their ‘petit Marais’ (Henry Desmarest; a small man).
Titre événement*. Sometimes an opera is performed as part of a celebration, perhaps for the wedding of a member of the royal family or some other celebration of national importance. If known, we mention it here.
Dates* and notes dates. Many existing lists give the dates of premieres, and little else. These are supplemented by a small number of excellent studies taking account of reprises; but in both cases, little or (usually) nothing is said about subsequent performances in the run, including the last before the opera was discontinued. We have done our best to make up for this lack.
We justify the dates that we give. Many previous authorities assert their findings but do not give any indication of their reasoning, which, in any case, is sometimes no more than that they have found the dates in earlier sources; or, even if they do, the indication may be sketchy. We have attempted to give a full set of reasons for any such information we present, so that it may be checked, and, if appropriate, challenged. It will also be clear that we have sometimes proposed definitive dates, sometimes probable dates, and sometimes dates that are merely possible.
We also seek to record and refute unlikely dates, giving our reasons or, at least, reasons why a date, whilst being impossible to disprove, may perhaps be unlikely. For example, in this section of each of the relevant entries, we review the arguments for the date of the first performance of Thésée, which has been put forward by historians of unimpeachable credentials as having taken place on each of 10, 11,12, 13, and 15 Jan 1675. Likewise, Persée, for which the dates 17 and 18 April 1682 are proposed as categorical certainties by different writers. Clearly, only one of these can be correct in each case.
Lieux* and notes lieux. We give the specific venue for the performance, when it is known (it usually is): this royal château, that public auditorium in Paris. If early sources are less often incorrect in stating venues than dates, that is, in part, a reflection of the fact that they very often do not give them at all. Normally there is no doubt, but we discuss the venue where necessary.
Contents of the fields of the database: participants, spectators
Interprètes*. Here we list the names of performers (singers, dancers, and musicians) where they are known, particularly in connection with creations or first performances of reprises. These names rarely change during the course of a run, and so we do not ordinarily repeat them for later performances, but sometimes a reference to a particular singer, dancer, or musician is made by a source relating to a particular performance in which that person appeared. In such cases, we make a special point of capturing it. In some contemporary librettos, the names of all the singers and dancers are given; occasionally, even, those of the instrumentalists. Except in cases in which we think it particularly interesting, we have not repeated all this information, which would very much lengthen our entries, but have restricted ourselves to reproducing the most important names. In the case of Lully’s operas, further and fuller details on performers are given in Carl B. Schmidt’s The Livrets of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Tragédies Lyriques: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York, 1995).
Autres noms cités*. Here we list three major categories of names. First, those of the decorator, machinist, and costume designer, particularly in connection with creations or first performances of reprises. As is the case with performers, these names rarely change during the course of a run. Second, whenever we know the names of spectators at a given performance, we specify them in this section. We also sometimes surmise that certain spectators were present; when this is so, we make clear that we have surmised, in the section on Notes noms cités (below). Third, this section enables us to list, in this searchable field, any names we have mentioned in the (non-searchable) discursive fields in the entry.
Notes noms cités. Discussion of any of the names, whether spectators or participants, in the fields listed above: who they were, whether their presence is definite or presumed. We also include, here, whenever we think it helpful, notes on the names by which people are known. Some writers seem unable to tell Monsieur from Monseigneur, Madame from Madame la Dauphine and Madame la Duchesse, one princesse de Conti from another, and, after 1689, ‘sa Majesté’ from ‘sa Majesté Britannique’, the deposed James II or, later, his son, the ‘Old Pretender’, both of whom lived by the grace of Louis XIV at his old palace in Saint-Germain. We indicate any confusion and correct it. Women marry and change their surnames. Members of the royal family and the aristocracy inherit titles. The duc de Chartres becomes the duc d’Orléans, who becomes the Regent. His father might also be referred to, in his lifetime, as the duc d’Orléans, although for the first years of his life, while his uncle lived, he was the duc d’Anjou; in any case, he is better known as ‘Monsieur’. ‘Monsieur le Duc’, on the death of his father, becomes ‘Monsieur le Prince’ … until, that is, 1709, when ‘Monsieur le Duc’, on succeeding his father, did not take the senior title. Since ‘Monsieur le Duc’ is also called ‘le duc de Bourbon’, we have to be aware that they are one and the same person. There were two half-sisters called ‘Mlle de Blois’, daughters of Louis XIV by Louise de La Vallière and Mme de Montespan, and the full sister of the younger Mlle de Blois, Mlle de Nantes, married Monsieur le Duc and therefore became Madame la Duchesse. Meanwhile, the title ‘Mademoiselle’ passed from sister to sister amongst Monsieur’s three daughters, as each in turn married and gained other titles; they, in any case, have to be distinguished from ‘la Grande Mademoiselle’, the daughter of Gaston d’Orléans, herself referred to simply as ‘Mademoiselle’ until the 1670s. There are many such examples and we have done our best to explain.
The king and queen together are ‘Leurs Majestés’, often abbreviated to ‘L.M.’. Likewise, ‘Sa Majesté’, or ‘S.M.’, designates the king or the queen separately. Thus Louis XIV is often ‘elle’ if the grammatical antecedent in the text under analysis is ‘S.M.’, and the king and queen together are often ‘elles’ when the antecedent is ‘L.M.’. Similarly, Monsieur and Madame together are often referred to as ‘Leurs Altesses Royales’, or ‘L.A.R.’, and individually as ‘Son Altesse Royale’ or ‘S.A.R.’. Again, the pronoun designating Monsieur is often ‘elle’, and ‘elles’ when both Monsieur and Madame are indicated. It is unfortunately the case, particularly in respect of Monsieur and Madame, who frequently attended the opera, that ‘elle’ is occasionally taken by historians to mean Madame, when we have other evidence to show that it was Monsieur who was present.
Contents of the fields of the database: sources, cross-references
Source. In this field we specify the contemporary or early source or sources for the information we provide – if there are any. In other words, this section contains references to sources in the eighteenth century and before (amongst which we count the ‘Journal de l’opéra’, largely because of the frequency with which we quote it). These sources may be unique or numerous. Sometimes they confirm each other; sometimes they are complementary – that is, one source provides part of the information in an entry, whilst another source provides another part. Where this occurs, we explain in the appropriate discursive parts of the entry. With the exception of the ‘Journal de l’opéra’, material from the nineteenth century to the present day is not regarded as a source.
Notes source. Where appropriate, this section discusses the nature of the source, its reliability, and the context in which the information is given. In certain cases, where the same discussion would be repeated from entry to entry, we have cross-referred to what we call a ‘fiche-source’, with its own unique catalogue number. This applies, for example, to the ‘Journal de l’opéra’, the manuscript ‘Histoire de l’Académie Royale de Musique’, and the biographies of Quinault by Boscheron.
Livret. Here we specify the publication details of the libretto that was issued for the performance or series of performances in question. In general, we note this information only in the entry relating to the first performance of a new opera or a reprise. If the libretto, or more specifically its title page, is also called in evidence to support the date of the performance, it will also count as a ‘source’ and consequently appear additionally in the ‘source’ field.
Extraits texte. It is important for the researcher to have access to the exact words used in the source states. In some cases, a source can be very detailed, whereas in others it is abrupt or hazy. We have usually quoted the text of the source in this section. Sometimes we quote extracts from later writers.
Commentaire extraits. This field is used on a small number of occasions to explain unclear or archaic vocabulary or references in the texts quoted.
Voir aussi. This section cross-refers to other entries, each of which is identified by its unique catalogue number. In general, this will include the entry discussing the first performance of the work, or the first performance of a reprise. If the information being discussed is erroneous, the cross-reference will be to the entry bearing the correct information. Where a series of performances continues into the next month, there is a cross-reference to the appropriate entry. Other cross-references are made to entries of special interest and to entries mentioned in the course of the discussion. This is an important section, because information given in the major entries for new works and beginnings of reprises and so on, is not repeated in the much simpler entries relating to dates later in the run of performances.
Bibliographie. In the database version of our study, we give here bibliographical information for every work we cite as evidence in a given entry, whether a source or a later writer.
Informations complémentaires. This is where we place comment and information that does not seem to fit easily into the other categories. Our use of this category is sparing.
We have many people to thank for their encouragement, advice, practical help, and belief. They include many of the staff, past and present, of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, and in particular its Director of Research, Jean Duron, and his colleagues Corinne Daveluy, Sylvie Lonchampt, Bénédicte Mariolle, and Pierre Chaumont. Others, in alphabetical order, include the late and much missed Jim Anthony; and Nathalie Berthon, Georgia Cowart, Andrew Fairbairn, Jérôme de La Gorce, David Nations, Anne Piéjus, Patricia Ranum, Carl B. Schmidt, and Philip Yarrow.
We have located more original sources than any previous writer and brought this additional evidence to bear, but in so doing, we have seen trusted historians such as the Frères Parfaict contradict themselves, Louis-François Beffara confidently accept an unsupported date, Étienne Gros permit a simple misprint which will be quoted by others as fact, and Pierre Mélèse misidentify named individuals. Our awareness of these slips is daunting, because we know we must have done these things too, however hard we have tried to avoid making slips of our own. Whilst we have little hope of achieving the one hundred per cent accuracy at which we aimed, we take comfort in our belief that we have explicitly differentiated facts from inferences and deductions, and that, where there is doubt or error, it will be obvious why, because others will be able to see exactly how we arrived at our conclusions.
For the insights and improvements to knowledge of the early history of French opera that this study affords those who consult it, we thank all those mentioned above and many others too numerous to mention. For the errors and imperfections which surely remain, we alone are responsible.