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Le répertoire de l’Opéra de Paris (1671-2009)

 | 
Michel Noiray
, 
Solveig Serre

Deuxième partie. Intervention politique, ambition artistique, impératifs économiques

The repertory of the Paris Opéra, 1789-1799

Mark Darlow

Résumé

The chapter provides both synthetic data on the repertory of the Paris Opéra in the period of the French Revolution and a discussion of gate receipts for individual Works. It aims to consider the question of continuity and change in the period by studying such issues as the balance of genres, the place of repertory works in the programming, and the respective success of different works. Some patterns emerge concerning the balance of new productions and existing works, and concerning genres, and support the hypothesis of a change in practice around September 1793, the beginning of the Terror, and July 1794, the beginnings of the «Thermidorian reaction». From a discussion of these issues, I move to a more global consideration of cultural policy in the period, as concerns the Opéra, and of the degree to which the institution controlled its own repertory or was, conversely, subject to extrinstic forces.

Texte intégral

  • 1 I am pleased to acknowledge my debt to Janet Darlow, for her assistance in preparing a spreadsheet (...)
  • 2 Regulating French Opera: Cultural Policy and the French Revolution, Oxford, forthcoming.

1The present chapter, which forms part of a larger project studying the Paris Opéra in the period of the Revolution, has three main purposes. The first, is to present for the first rime synthetic empirical data on the repertory according to a series of pre-set criteria in order to answer some basic questions about the degree of repertory continuity across the period, and the extent to which it changes, including (inter alia) the balance of genres and the place of repertory works, season by season. A second is to combine these data with raw figures of gate receipts (recettes à la porte), in order to draw what are admittedly merely some indicative and rough conclusions about the respective success of different types of work1. A third is to offer some methodological reflections both on the study of the repertory in this period, and upon such issues as the close imbrication of continuity and change, the problematic question of cultural policy, and the crucial issue of institutional control over the repertory. A full discussion of these and other issues may be found in my forthcoming monograph2.

2There are three main questions to ask concerning the repertory of the Opéra in this period of change. Given that we are concerned here with a period of rapid political and social change, we need first to ask how we can most appropriately periodise the repertory, and to what extent any micro-divisions are appropriate. The ownership and governance of the institution change frequently during the period, and one might ask whether repertory policy shifts accordingly. Secondly, given that one of the striking characteristics of the repertory of the early Revolution is what seems to be its a-political and traditional character, one might ask whether there is any discernible fault-line in 1789. Previous studies of the Old Regime have often fixed their end point at 1789, implicitly seeing that year as a point of rupture, yet it is worth separating out the different strands which that might imply: institutional constraints, internal managerial and other practices, choice of repertory, performance of those works, and not least reception. Finally, we also need to consider to what extent the breakdown of genres evident in the other Parisian theatres also affects the Opéra, and to ask whether its repertory remains separate from other theatres’ production, or whether there is a merging after the Le Chapelier law and deregulation of January 1791, which dissociated works from institutions.

I. — QUESTIONS OF PERIODISATION: DIRECT AND INDIRECT CONSEQUENCES OF THE DEREGULATION OF JANUARY 1791

  • 3 I say purview, because the Opéra did not purchase works before 1791, preferring (unlike the Comédi (...)

3Several chronological faultlines and different ways of conceiving of the period appear. From a managerial point of view, four segments exist: management by the royal household since the Opéra’s re-integration into the royal domain (1780); then from April 1790 to April 1792 management by the city of Paris, from April 1792 to September 1793 private enterprise run by Louis-Joseph Francœur and Jacques Cellerier; and thereafter management by the artists of the Opéra themselves. We shall see that these dates indeed appear relevant to the proportion of new works performed, both of which vary from one period to the next. However, the Le Chapelier law, which abolished theatrical privilege and placed the Opéra in a situation of unprecedented competition with other Parisian theatres, is arguably more important than changes in managerial regime, although its effects can only be observed over a medium term. However, to determine whether the law affected the repertory directly is complex. The provision of genres at the Opéra certainly became more varied after the law, but this fact does not in itself constitute a direct causality. The law’s two important provisions in terms of repertory were a recognition of the literary property of playwrights and their heirs over theatrical works, or the entry into the public domain of those works whose authors were deceased since a defined period; and as a consequence, a dissociation of repertory and institution, in the sense that no theatre owned individual plays. In principle, this certainly allowed any Parisian theatre to perform operas which had hitherto been the purview – if not the property – of the Opéra3. However (presumably in part for technical reasons), very few theatres availed themselves of this possibility. Theatres also acquired the right to perform what works they wished, irrespective of genre, unlike the situation before 1791, where in theory each privileged theatre had a monopoly over a defined share of the repertory, whatever slippage may have begun in practice. But the Opéra already had a monopoly over musical theatre by the terms of its privilège, and so had nothing to gain in this respect from the deregulation (and had much to lose), save for the right to perform spoken theatre which it naturally had no interest in doing – and dialogue opera, which it was slow to do, the only example being a production of Le Mariage de Figaro in 1793, which adapted a large proportion of the musical numbers of Mozart’s opera, replacing his recitatives with dialogue from Beaumarchais’s original play. There were doubtless several reasons why the institution did not avail itself of the possibility, even when it became lawful: performance practice and training (none of the Opéra’s singers had expertise in spoken theatre), and genre hierarchy being but the two most obvious. The question of legality is however worth briefly exploring. The natural question which arises, is that of competition with the Comédie-Italienne, hitherto the home of opéra-comique, and whether the Le Chapelier law had any influence on this development.

  • 4 Arrêt du Conseil d’État du roi, approbatif du bail ou concession du privilége de l’Opéra-Comique, (...)

4In order to answer these questions, we need to examine the legal status of a privilège. As is well known, the Opéra possessed the exclusive right to musical drama, but routinely chose, for financial reasons, to lease rights to certain types of musical theatre to the Comédie-Italienne – this System of redevances was breaking down as early as 1789, but was not formally lifted until the Le Chapelier law. The most recent bail, signed in 1779 and starting in 1780 for thirty years, leased the rights to «le spectacle de l’Opéra-Comique» in Paris4; and according to the Encyclopédie, to offer a bail entailed renouncing the right to the type of theatre concerned, since it defined that term as follows:

  • 5 «Bail», in Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, ed. Denis (...)

une convention par laquelle on transfère à quelqu’un la jouissance ou l’usage d’un héritage, d’une maison, ou autre sorte de bien, ordinairement pour un temps déterminé, moyennant une rente payable à certains temps de l’année que le bailleur stipule à son profit, pour lui tenir lieu de la jouissance ou de l’usage dont il se dépouille5.

5By leasing rights to this institution of the other type of theatre then, the Opéra was foregoing it itself; and the Le Chapelier law would therefore have made a direct change to the legal position of the Opéra’s repertory.

  • 6 Arrêt du Conseil d’État du Roi, contenant règlement pour l’Académie royale de musique, du 13 mars (...)

6Were there other (indirect) consequences? Certainly some of the Opéra’s works were now legally «fair game» to other theatres, ratifying a practice already in existence whereby the Boulevard theatres pirated the works of the privileged institutions, and weakening the Opéra’s control over reception of its own works. And during the Terror the deregulation did allow for works approved by the government to be passed from one theatre to another: the Opéra performed several works already premiered elsewhere, albeit with new musical scores. As for the question of literary property, which was the other major provision of that law, it is unclear that this substantially affected the institution. The situation regulating honoraria as set out in March 1784 was as follows: librettist and composer were each to be paid 200 liv. for the first twenty performances of a major (three-act) work, 150 liv. for the next ten, and 100 thereafter, up to and including the forties performance. Beyond this a gratification of 500 liv. was payable. For one act works, the fees were 80, 60, and 50 liv. respectively. Three act works fell into the first case if all three acts were newly composed; but into the second case (where «new» acts would be rewarded separately), if one or more were old. From 16 April 1781 (with effect from 1 May), lifelong honoraria of 60 liv. per performance of a new work (or 20 liv. for works in one act) were payable per performance after the forties. Pensions were also granted for those who had performed three «grands ouvrages»6.

7What of the takings overall? Graphiques n°1 and n°2 plot these, as gross monthly figures and by day respectively, and show that there are some noteworthy dips in takings: the first year of the Revolution (or the last run by the royal household) was particularly poor, where most months fell below the level of 30 000 liv. The apparent rise in average daily takings towards 1792 is mitigated by the sharp drop-off in frequency of performance, which is why gross takings under Francœur and Cellerier were mediocre. Graphique n°3 plots the number of performances per month. Dips in April are explained by the annual closure and may be discounted. Otherwise, these do not show any clear trend, save for two factors: they demonstrate that the period under Francœur and Cellerier was comparatively successful in terms of takings, whatever the truth of the accusations of financial mismanagement made later by the artists who were to take over the institution and by the Commune; and they suggest that the troubles of summer 1789 took a significant toll on attendance (and thereby, takings). But it is not possible to draw further conclusions, certainly not correlating takings to management period.

8Nor is it clear that the organisation of the theatrical week changed significantly over the period. Plotting the frequency of performance by day of the week, a noteworthy pattern emerges, but does not significantly vary (graphiques n°4 and n°5). Tuesday, Friday and Sunday were the most popular evenings throughout the period, although Mondays declined in frequency and Wednesdays grew (but moderately). The Théâtre de Monsieur performed on both, and so direct competition cannot be the reason. From 1793, the Republican calendar replaced days of the Christian calendar with numbered days of a 10-day week [décade]: clearly these were roughly equivalent for the institution, suggesting that the frequency of performance was no longer slanted towards particular evenings; a phenomenon which would deserve to be considered for Paris as a whole, since the entire point of performing on particular days was in order to attenuate the effects of competition, by allowing the theatre-going Parisian public to attend each of the major theatres within the week. Whether any such informal accommodation continued is unknown: these figures suggest the abandonment of any such arrangement.

Graphique n°1. Gross takings per month.

Graphique n°2. Average daily takings per month.

Graphique n°3. Number of performance per month.

Graphique n°4. Number of performance per day in each season.

Graphique n°5. Gate receipts per day in each season.

9In terms of periodisation and the overall shape of the period, takings and frequency of performance show: i. major structural reorganisations in the final season before Thermidor, i.e. 1793-1794; ii. diversification of repertory but financial trouble in the summer of 1789; iii. greater success under the entrepreneurs Francœur and Cellerier than was claimed, or had been foreseen, despite the considerable difficulties they faced. Are these trends borne out by the shape and success of the repertory itself?

II. — OLD AND NEW WORKS

  • 7 Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de La Ferté, Précis sur l’Opera, et réponses à différentes objections, (...)
  • 8 Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de La Ferté, «Mémoire», AN, O1 617, no. 42, fol. 1.

10The Précis sur l’Opera, a printed memorandum written in late 1789 by La Ferté, intendant des Menus-Plaisirs, reminds us of a fact easily forgotten: the 1780s performed a massively increased quantity of new works7; indeed, compared with the average of four or five works performed per season before 1780, the period after 1780 saw sometimes as many as six or seven. Yet for our period, the annual average returns to five. Enhancing submissions was one of the major planks of La Ferté’s strategy, conscious as he was that the Opéra could only survive, as he put it, «à la faveur des nouveautés». La Ferté’s manuscript observations preparatory to the Précis are interesting, because they view the Opéras repertory in terms of musical progress, and see transformations of taste as ruptures, which make certain segments unperformable8. This is perhaps what explains the concurrent policy of reworkings of old libretti to new scores. That is, he subscribed to the conception of the Opéra as a repertory theatre, having a stock of works [fonds], whilst recognising the difficulties with maintaining it.

  • 9 Mark Darlow, «Le répertoire de l’Académie royale de musique pendant la Constituante», in Le Théâtr (...)

11Although no specific pattern emerges from the frequency of individual works, what is clear overall is the continued importance of certain works (especially those of Gluck) throughout the period, and the relative neglect of many repertory works which were not performed at all, even though La Ferté listed them in his Précis as being ripe for performance (19 out of 39 were ignored). The Opéra was less reliant on stop-gap classics than detractors claimed. Moreover, in a preliminary survey of the repertory during the period of the Constituent Assembly, I showed that the Opéra was in line with the average of Parisian theatres in the proportion of new works which it produced, by season9. Tableau n°1 extends that survey to August 1794, listing the «old» and «new» productions by season, giving raw numbers of performances and percentages of the year/season’s performances as a whole. To enable maximum comparability with other statistics for the same period’s theatre, I classify a «new work» as one written from scratch to a new libretto, or whose score is substantially newly composed (Candeille’s Castor et Pollux). Because the question at issue is the extent to which works were written in response to circumstances, I count new productions of repertory works as «old works» in what follows. The changes made to works in new productions/revivals were sometimes substantial, sometimes merely cosmetic; but there is no space to treat the question adequately within the present discussion.

  • 10 Theatre, Opera and Audiences in Revolutionary Paris: Analysis and Repertory, Westport (Conn.)/Lond (...)

12The table demonstrates that the early practice of mounting new productions was at its highest in the first year of the Revolution (under the Crown), and was not sustained under Francœur and Cellerier, but that it was reintroduced by the artists during the Terror, doubtless in part in response to extrinsic pressures to truncate the repertory of those older works which were ideologically objectionable. It is instructive in this regard to compare data for works composed before and after the faultline of 1789, rather than new productions each season. This proportion follows a linear progression, as one might expect, with «Old Régime works» becoming steadily less frequent, as in tableau n°2. What is noteworthy about these figures, is that they reach a parity as early as the end of 1791, which also places them in line with the average of Parisian theatres, as calculated by the statistics of Emmet Kennedy et al.10. (Tableau n°3 recalculates these by calendar year, as did Kennedy’s team, in order to allow for a more direct comparison.)

  • 11 Journal des spectacles, no. 92 (2 Oct. 1793), p. 733. The following paragraph points to the fact t (...)
  • 12 Les Spectacles de Paris, t. 43, 1794, p. 119.

13Similarly to calculations for «old» works, the cliché of an Opéra disinclined to present new works is inaccurate: it was in line with its peers, throughout the Revolution. In particular, the figures show a change during the Terror, since the steepest climb in the performances of recent works is around 1793. How can we account for this? Clearly, during this most radical phase of the Revolution, revisions were always open to ideological objection, since they were composed during the «Old Regime», and were hence redolent of the «era of slavery». On 2 October 1793, the Journal des spectacles reported loud objections from a spectator that «il était honteux pour des républicains de souffrir encore sur la scène des pièces où l’on voyait des rois, des princes, etc; et qu’il était temps d’oublier ces vieilles erreurs de nos pères»11. Les Spectacles de Paris for 1794 claimed of several «Old Regime» tragedies that they «ont été à juste titre retranchées du répertoire, comme présentant des rois, et propres à blesser les oreilles et les yeux des Républicains qui fréquentent maintenant les Spectacles»12. There were some dissenting voices during the Terror, who insisted that musical and literary quality transcended ideological objection. For instance, concerning the revision of Gluck’s Armide from 1793, the Journal des spectacles made a conflation between Gluck and timeless quality:

  • 13 Journal des spectacles, no. 81 (20 Sept. 1793), p. 643.

Dire que Gluck s’est surpassé dans la musique de cet ouvrage, n’est-ce pas assurer qu’il sera immortel? Ajouter, enfin, qu’il vient d’être remis avec tout le soin qu’on devait attendre des artistes qui composent le plus imposant spectacle de l’Univers, n’est-ce pas exhorter tout ce qui reste d’amateurs des arts et de gens de goût dans la capitale, à s’empresser d’aller voir ce superbe opera. Ah! qu’il leur sera doux, en jouissant de la réunion la plus rare des talents les plus distingués, de pouvoir douter encore de la dégénération des arts, qu’on ne cesse de nous faire craindre13.

Tableau n°1. Number and proportion of new Works by season.

Tableau n°2. Number and proportion by season of works premiered before and after the beginning of the 1789-1790 season respectively.

Tableau n°3. Number and proportion of pre- and post- 1789 works by calendar year.

14Equally important, the columnist suggested that what was required was the coexistence of revised classics whose value was indisputable, and new productions of new works. In this way, he said:

  • 14 Journal des spectacles, no. 77 (16 Sept. 1793), p. 614-615. It is possible that this article is du (...)

[les artistes] rendront aux arts des services inappréciables, puisqu’en attirant l’affluence à leur spectacle, ils ménageront aux lettres, à la musique, à la danse, à la peinture, à la mécanique, à l’architecture, en un mot aux beaux-arts, et à la circulation et au commerce de la capitale, des ressources qui leur sont nécessaires dans un moment où l’on ne saurait blâmer ceux qui craignent de les voir anéantir14.

15In other words, there were two diametrically-opposed views of the classic repertory. But by 1793 the Opéra was deliberately self-fashioning as patriotic for financial reasons, and this may explain why they erred towards the repudiation of classic works (only Armide and Orphée continued to be performed throughout 1794).

III. — RELATIVE SUCCESS OF NEW PRODUCTIONS

  • 15 Calculations concerning takings are subject to the following caveat: works were generally combined (...)

16Beyond the rather obvious polarity of «old» and «new» works, which were most successful? To calculate raw data of numbers of performances is more instructive than numbers of productions, because the length of a run, itself evidence of success, is built in to the calculation. Yet the Opéra often played to thin audiences, and those figures alone do not give a sufficiently fine-grained means of calculating success. Tableau n°4 compares the takings of all works, the number of performances, and average takings15.

  • 16 Theatre, Opera and Audiences..., p. 90.

17As tableau n°4 shows, the new works which grossed the largest takings in the first two seasons were a comedy, Les Prétendus, in the first season, and a mixed work, Tarare, in the second. The revised Castor et Pollux was most successful in the third, thereafter the largest takings were for L’Offrande à la liberté, Le Siège de Thionville, and La Réunion du 10 août. Based upon this alone, it is impossible to draw conclusions about whether apparently «apolitical» works were more popular: Kennedy’s conclusion seems unhelpfully schematic16. Two of the latter (political) works were festivals more than they were music dramas and grew out of the showy type of celebratory divertissement, which may explain their success, quite apart from any ideological component. Tragedies tended to be less successful than mixed and comic works, although the fact that Les Pommiers et le moulin and Le Portrait (also comedies) were comparative failures too, means that we cannot draw very conclusive lessons about the respective success of different genres. If we look at average takings, the picture is no clearer: the pathbreaking and controversial production of Tarare was no more successful than several other works such as Louis IX en Égypte; in terms of finances alone, even Aspasie, widely considered a failure, came close. Most instructive is the length of a run, since this was decided by officials concerned to avoid financial disaster; the end of a work’s run is surely explained, in general, by its poor success. According to this criterion, the great successes of the period, bearing in mind La Ferté’s ideal of fourty performances, were: Les Prétendus (later to be Berlioz’s favourite work of the period), Nephté, Castor et Pollux, L’Offrande à la liberté, Miltiade à Marathon. Notable failures (Antigone, Le Portrait, Cora, L’Heureux Stratagème, Œdipe à Thèbes, L’Apothéose de Beaurepaire, and a revised version of Mozart’s Mariage de Figaro) were expensive mistakes. Both groups are mixed in terms of both genre and explicit political content, and defy easy generalisations.

  • 17 Certain evenings in 1792-1793 are missing receipts; the average calculation is based only upon tho (...)

Tableau n°4. Gross takings and average day s takings for each new work and for average of old Works17

IV. — THE QUESTION OF GENRES

  • 18 La Scène bâtarde entre Lumières et Romantisme, ed. Philippe Bourdin and Gérard Loubinoux, Clermont (...)

18There has been a rich body of recent work addressing the breakdown of genres in the mid- to late-eighteenth century. Particularly useful is Philippe Bourdin and Gérard Loubinoux’s collection of essays dealing specifically with theatre, which locates a particular inflexion to the issue in the Revolutionary decade18. Indeed, given the sheer proliferation of generic labels and experimental forms which the Revolution encourages, the admitted increase in generic variety in the repertory of the Opéra seems conservative. Their volume also reminds us that studying genre combines attention to the institutional dimension (whereby creation is modeled) with an attention to the categories by means of which reception operated. For one of the interests in genre breakdown is the way in which new classification Systems are created, models for theatrical production imagined, allowing for a sort of paradigmatic belonging of individual works to categories within which the works acquire, if not meanings, at least horizons of expectations for viewers and/or readers. Labelling a work «tragédie lyrique», or «scène patriotique», gave these viewers a sense of expectation, as is both obvious and well-known. But in the Revolution, generic categories, as I would like to suggest, also contributed to the institutions self-fashioning: to describe a work as a «tableau patriotique» also told audiences – and those who concerned themselves either offically or not with surveillance – something of the nature and ideological slant of the works concerned, and thereby of the institutions political position. There is also an important sociological dimension to this breakdown, for genre hierarchy is also a cultural code to which an elite subscribed, and which was less familiar to a more popular segment of the Parisian theatrical public of the Revolution. Indeed, genres were progressively diversified, and «patriotic» genre labels were adopted from 1793 onwards.

19Tableau n°5 gives the genre designations of the various new works in the repertory between 1789 and 1794. Graphiques n°6-12 then shows proportions by season (in each case of performances, rather than numbers of works), and from a comparison of these, several conclusions can be drawn. The last year of royal administration sees a large injection of new comedies, a pattern not sustained by the city, whose receipts and level of new works both reach an all-time low in 1791-1792; the following season, under Francœur and Cellerier, sees a much greater generic variety, and a higher level of receipts, despite the charge levelled at them a year later that they had failed to manage the institutions finances. As may be expected, the number of genres increases, but moderately. Intermediate genre designations are frequent throughout the period and grow increasingly. The 1790-1791 season adds the label drame lyrique, hitherto more readily associated with the minor stages and the Comédie-Italienne. Tragédie lyrique dwindles, also as expected: in 1788-1789 it represents 42% of the production; by 1792-1793 it is 30%, falling to 23% in 1793-1794 and 12% therafter. Less expected is the dwindling of ballets after a resurgence in 1790-1791, and the failure of comic works to gain a foothold in the repertory, despite this being a major innovation of the first two seasons: perhaps the intention under the management of the city of Paris was to avoid seemingly «frivolous» works in 1791-1792, a season which reinstates tragédie lyrique (46%) and falls back on classics.

  • 19 André Tissier, Les Spectacles à Paris pendant la Révolution. Répertoire analytique, chronologique (...)
  • 20 Affiches, annonces et avis divers, 29 Jan. 1793, p. 401.
  • 21 Cahusac’s entry in the Encyclopédie only discusses the end-of-act or end-of-work divertissement, a (...)

20There is stability in mixed genre designations. The term lyrique as a generic descriptor represents approximately one-half of all production throughout the period; the term opéra between 10% and 19% according to year, with no discernible pattern. Most importantly, pièces de circonstance become vastly more important at the end of the period, as is well known, but we should also note that this is partly at the expense of the ballet. From only 4% of the productions in 1792-1793, pièces de circonstance represent 17% in 1793-1794, and 54% in the remainder of 1794. Is it possible that the pièce de circonstance takes over some of the functions of the autonomous ballet? It certainly has features in common with the operatic divertissement, borrowing évolutions militaires as had ballets during the Ancien Régime, and seemingly favouring visual spectacle over rigorous dramatic motivation and integration. Indeed, one of the most performed new works is L’Offrande à la liberté, a simple pot-pourri of musical movements, whose published title is revealing: «scène composée de l’air “Veillons au salut de l’Empire” et de la Marche des Marseillois avec récitatif, chœurs et accompagnement à grand Orchestre». Indeed, this work is simply a collection of revolutionary songs strung together in the manner of the festival, and not a dramatic action in any real sense. From 1790, André Tissier points to the confusion of public and private spaces, of performance and perception, of theatre and the festival19, and this trend is unmistakable from 1792 at the Opéra, both in festal works such as L’Offrande, and larger-scale works such as the first genuinely Republican libretto to be set, Le Triomphe de la République, one of several works celebrating French victory with a rather flimsy circumstantial plot and a unified setting and action. The Affiches, annonces et avis divers called Le Triomphe «une bagatelle lyrique qui offre du spectacle», quoting from the terms Chénier had used in his Avertissement20, and Chénier and Gossec named their work a divertissement lyrique; rather than a dramatic work, despite the vague narrative shape that this work has, it should be considered as an outgrowth of the celebratory works composed for particular events or occasions, and featuring a variety of musical numbers the link between which might be quite slight, even offering a kaleidescope of numbers on a similar theme21.

Tableau n°5. Genre designations for all lyric works in the repertory, 1789-1794.

Graphique n°6. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1788-1789.

Graphique n°7. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1789-1790.

Graphique n°8. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1790-1791.

Graphique n°9. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1791-1792.

Graphique n°10. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1792-1793.

Graphique n°11. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1793-1794.

Graphique n°12. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1794.

21It seems that the following tentative points concerning genre can be made: variety in genre was a constant criterion, from which comedy and mixed genre benefited in the first three seasons, and pièces de circonstance in the last two; the softening of genre labels to replace tragédie lyrique; the mixed fortunes of the ballet and divertissement; the unusual 1791-1792 season, which suddenly fell back on traditional Works.

V. — WHO EXERTED THE MOST CONTROL DURING THE TERROR?

22Most important in any discussion of repertory is the problematic issue of policy. This deserves scrutiny on the level of regulatory institutions which also vary over the period. A fairly neat correlation of repertory and regulator may be observed, for instance in the beginnings of municipal scrutiny of repertory during the great Terror, and the adoption of patriotic Works by artists who themselves are close to Hébert. And it is important to note in this connection that the adoption of seemingly patriotic repertory is due more to scrutiny and popular pressure via the sections of Paris, than by the State, as has normally been claimed. For this reason, a second series of questions occurs: that of the relationship between the institution and the various mechanisms of control on the juridical, political and practical levels, because the Le Chapelier law had not only outlawed privilege but also preventive censorship, to leave simply police powers over public order in the theatre auditorium. What is clear is that there is confusion between the different regulatory institutions: Convention, committees, municipality, Parisian sections. Given constraints of space, I shall give three examples of such complications.

  • 22 Paul d’Estrée, Le Théâtre sous la Terreur. Théâtre de la peur 1793-1794, Paris, 1913, p. 73.

23The law of 2 August 1793 has been seen as a watershed moment which removed the «freedom» previously declared by Le Chapelier only two-and-a-half years before, and introduced concrete interventions to inflect repertory towards defined types of works22 – the law was both positive and negative, because aimed both to remove offending works, and to positively inflect repertory. Its major provisions were as follows:

  • 23 Cited from Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860. Recueil complet des débats législatifs et polit (...)

1. À compter du 4 de ce mois, et jusqu’au 1er septembre prochain, seront représentées trois fois par semaine, sur les théâtres de Paris qui seront désignés par la municipalité, les tragédies de Brutus, Guillaume Tell, Caïus Gracchus, et autres pièces dramatiques qui retracent les glorieux événements de la Révolution, et les vertus des défenseurs de la liberté; une de ces représentations sera donnée chaque semaine aux frais de la République.
2. Tout théâtre sur lequel seraient représentées des pièces tendant à dépraver l’esprit public, et à réveiller la honteuse superstition de la royauté, sera fermé, et les directeurs arrêtés et punis selon la rigueur des lois.
3. La municipalité de Paris est chargée de l’exécution du présent décret23.

  • 24 A. Tissier, Les Spectacles à Paris..., t. II: De la proclamation de la République à la fin de la C (...)
  • 25 Recueil des actes du Comité de salut public, ed. François-Alphonse Aulard, Paris, 1889-1951, t. XI (...)
  • 26 On performances of this work during the Revolution, see Antoinette and Jean Ehrard, «Brutus à la s (...)

24Yet a few months later, a further bill offered financial rewards to those theatres which complied with the order. The total available was 100,000 liv.: from it, 8500 were made available for the Opéra. But this financial incentive to perform the intended repertory was the extent of control: no penalties seem to have been imposed for non-compliance with the order; and although this is also a clear form of coercion, particularly in the new context of competition which made theatre directors financially vulnerable, it is worth stating that only two of the theatres actually performed all three of the works in question: only the Théâtre de la République and the Théâtre patriotique performed Caïus Gracchus24. The Opéra was itself invited to prepare Brutus on 17 February 1794, but nothing came of this invitation25. More theatres performed Brutus and Guillaume Tell, but with nothing like the frequency originally intended (these two plays received, respectively, 87 and 55 performances for the whole period of Tissier’s volume 2)26. Repertory inflection after 2 August, as I suggest in fuller detail elsewhere, was negative, not positive, removing offending works from the stage, but rarely succeeding in imposing certain Works with any frequency.

25The Comité de salut public took charge of funding the Opéra on 8 October 1793, and here the policy was clear. Its decree contained the following provisions:

  • 27 Recueil des actes du Comité de salut public..., t. VII, p. 295-296 (8 Oct. 1793).

1° Que l’administration de l’Opera sera renouvelée et formée sur des principes d’économie et dans des vues patriotiques;
2° Qu’elle achètera des ouvrages républicains;
3° Qu’ils ne joueront que des pièces patriotiques;
4° Que le répertoire sera épuré;
5° Qu’il sera donné chaque semaine une représentation gratuite et patriotique de par et pour le peuple;
6° Que l’administration emploiera dans les diverses places subalternes de l’Opera des parents des volontaires qui servent sur les frontières27.

26On the basis of these provisions, the policy was clear. But this decree left control over suveillance of the Works in the hands of the Commune, which was pursuing a different policy from that stated, and so its effectiveness is debatable. Indeed, by February 1794, a different body – the Comité de sûreté générale – repudiated the Communes anticlericalism and reinjected what it saw as a necessary morality in the theatres, replacing Hebertist anticlericalism with portrayals of domestic virtue, with the following text:

  • 28 Cited from Moniteur, 3 Febr. 1794.

Le comité de sûreté générale de la Convention a mandé les directeurs de spectacles de Paris, et, dans un entretien amical et fraternel, leur a recommandé de faire de leurs théâtres une école de mœurs et de décence, leur permettant de mêler aux pièces patriotiques que l’on donne chaque jour des pièces où les vertus privées soient représentées dans tout leur éclat.
Le comité de surveillance du département de Paris vient de seconder ces mesures dictées par un esprit d’ordre et de sagesse. Il a fait afficher un avis aux différents artistes des théâtres de cette ville, qui renferme des exhortations et des conseils propres à conserver la pureté des mœurs publiques et à vivifier ces arts qui ornent et embellissent la société28.

27Whether one considers this new decree as a pendulum swing back towards moderation, or a new policy, the terms used belie the extent of legal control: the committees could or would do no more than to «recommend» certain types of work to the important theatres, tying funding to those types. That this is coercive is not in doubt, but it is not the same thing as State control or propaganda, as critics have tended to assume. In case further evidence were required, on 9 Frimaire an II (29 November 1793) a fundamental distinction was explained, between «moral surveillance» and police powers, which repudiated the anachronistic purges of the classic repertory, and revision of classic works, which had been a cornerstone of the policy of the Hebertist terror. 1794, then, sees a softening of control and a revision of the States ideals:

  • 29 [Joseph?] Payan to the Comité de salut public, 3 May 1794, cited from P. d’Estrée, Le Théâtre sous (...)

La Commission d’instruction publique donne lecture d’une lettre du Comité de sûreté générale, en date du 9 frimaire, qui paraît l’inculper relativement aux pièces qui se donnent en ce moment sur les théâtres de Paris. Le Comité nomme les citoyens Boissy et Massieu pour se transporter au Comité de sûreté générale et lui faire sentir que la surveillance du Comité et de la Commission d’instruction publique à l’égard des théâtres n’est que morale, tandis que celle de police appartient exclusivement au Comité de sûreté générale.
Je n’ai pas eu de peine à leur faire sentir qu’il fallait, en conservant les pièces anciennes, laisser subsister le costume et la dénomination convenables au temps où elles ont été faites, ou aux pays où la scène est censée se passer. Sans doute, on doit trouver aussi ridicule de dire le citoyen Catilina que de voir Jupiter ou Armide décorés d’une cocarde tricolore29.

28One could multiply the examples, but my point is that power in the period is dispersed between different bodies; that there is confusion between them; that there is very little concrete imposition of repertory until the very end of the period, and finally that the biggest segment of the Terror sees not imposed repertory but a situation where theatres need to compete for subsidy according to criteria which are never explicitly explained, described as «civic utility», but often quite contradictory; and this places theatres in a position where they need to self-position as patriotic in order to bid for funds. If we turn back to the repertory, I believe that we can see a change in genres around April 1794, precisely the moment of the establishment of the commission of public instruction. Although many patriotic Works are performed in 1793-1794, their frequency increases substantially in the following period, from April 1794 until Thermidor; ballet also disappears in that latter period.

VI. — THE SITUATION AFTER THERMIDOR

29The period after Thermidor falls outside my current project, but some raw data have been calculated in tableau n°6: more research is needed on the Opéra during this crucial period of the Revolution. Although Robespierre fell in July 1794, the ban on unpatriotic works was not lifted until 14 February 1795, which explains a continuity of works in the first season. Only after the 1795-96 season do things change dramatically. Most noteworthy are the return of ballets which were largely absent in 1794-95, especially Psyché, often used to fill in the repertory until 1793, the failure to write a single new opera until the final season 1798-89 (those shown in bold type), save for the festal works such as the Hymn to Rousseau and others. There is a massive return to works which had been removed by the artists after their appointment as managers of the institution in September 1793. Comedy returns, for instance, in significant proportions. Many of the works from the Terror are recycled, especially those susceptible of Republican re-packaging, such as those dealing with Miltiades and Horatius, or the work L’Offrande à la liberté.

Tableau n°6. Frequency of performance of individual works after Thermidor, by season (titles of new works are given in bold type).

30Also maintained are those works which celebrare the Republic in general, such as La Rosière républicaine. In other words, the hypothesis which these statistics invite us to explore, is that Thermidor does not close down the culture produced during the Terror, but reinterprets it in a new political context.

31To conclude, the statistics I have presented invite us to revise our opinions on three particular issues. First the question of cultural rupture, both in 1789 and in 1794: at both moments, I suggest, there was a greater degree of continuity than critics have been willing to acknowledge. Similarly doubtful is the longstanding assumption that the crown was resistant to change, as I have elsewhere developed. Equally questionable, for material and ideological reasons, is the suggestion that the Terror imposed a uniform propaganda on the theatres. On the contrary, the evidence points to a confused situation of institutional control, where culture was negotiated and improvised, rather than being the object of coherent and explicit policy.

Notes

1 I am pleased to acknowledge my debt to Janet Darlow, for her assistance in preparing a spreadsheet of all performances and receipts in the period under analysis, which has allowed me to make these and other calculations.

2 Regulating French Opera: Cultural Policy and the French Revolution, Oxford, forthcoming.

3 I say purview, because the Opéra did not purchase works before 1791, preferring (unlike the Comédie-Française) to pay honoraria to librettists and composers per performance.

4 Arrêt du Conseil d’État du roi, approbatif du bail ou concession du privilége de l’Opéra-Comique, faite par la Ville aux Comédiens, dits, Italiens, pour trente années, à commencer le 1er janvier 1780, Paris, 1779.

5 «Bail», in Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, ed. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D’Alembert, t. II, 1751, p. 16; see University of Chicago, ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Winter 2008 Edition), ed. Robert Morrissey, http://encyclopedie.uchicago.edu/: My italics.

6 Arrêt du Conseil d’État du Roi, contenant règlement pour l’Académie royale de musique, du 13 mars 1784, Paris, 1784, chapitre XIV, § 12-13.

7 Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de La Ferté, Précis sur l’Opera, et réponses à différentes objections, n. pl., n.d. [1789], p. 32-33. La Ferté, amongst his various duties concerning royal ceremonial and entertainments, had oversight of the management of the Opéra since its return to the royal domain in 1780.

8 Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de La Ferté, «Mémoire», AN, O1 617, no. 42, fol. 1.

9 Mark Darlow, «Le répertoire de l’Académie royale de musique pendant la Constituante», in Le Théâtre sous la Révolution. Politique du répertoire (1789-1799), ed. Martial Poirson, Paris, 2008, p. 90-102.

10 Theatre, Opera and Audiences in Revolutionary Paris: Analysis and Repertory, Westport (Conn.)/London, 1996, p. 381 (table 3).

11 Journal des spectacles, no. 92 (2 Oct. 1793), p. 733. The following paragraph points to the fact that these revisions were severely expurgated.

12 Les Spectacles de Paris, t. 43, 1794, p. 119.

13 Journal des spectacles, no. 81 (20 Sept. 1793), p. 643.

14 Journal des spectacles, no. 77 (16 Sept. 1793), p. 614-615. It is possible that this article is due to the exhortation the journal received by a letter dated 12 September, which it printed on the 16th, not to neglect the Opéra in favour of the «petits spectacles», and to review the production of Armide, given its spectacular public success. The Journal responded to the letter in print, suggesting that it had a review of the production waiting to be printed.

15 Calculations concerning takings are subject to the following caveat: works were generally combined in double, very occasionally triple-bills, and takings are for an evening, not for a particular work. Nevertheless, evenings containing new works tended to draw larger crowds, and the takings for an evening as a whole do seem to tail off when the constituent works have lost their novelty appeal.

16 Theatre, Opera and Audiences..., p. 90.

17 Certain evenings in 1792-1793 are missing receipts; the average calculation is based only upon those evenings where receipts are available.

18 La Scène bâtarde entre Lumières et Romantisme, ed. Philippe Bourdin and Gérard Loubinoux, Clermont-Ferrand, 2004.

19 André Tissier, Les Spectacles à Paris pendant la Révolution. Répertoire analytique, chronologique et bibliographique, t. I: De la réunion des États généraux à la chute de la royauté 1789-1792, Geneva, 1992, p. 34.

20 Affiches, annonces et avis divers, 29 Jan. 1793, p. 401.

21 Cahusac’s entry in the Encyclopédie only discusses the end-of-act or end-of-work divertissement, and mentions only briefly the divertissement as an autonomous work, although examples exist from the very beginning of the century: «c’est un terme générique, dont on se sert également pour désigner tous les petits poèmes mis en musique, qu’on exécute sur le théatre ou en concert; et les danses mêlées de chant, qu’on place quelquefois à la fin des comédies de deux actes ou d’un acte. La grote de Versailles, l’Idyle de Sceaux, sont des divertissements de la premiere espece». Encyclopédie..., t. IV, 1754, p. 1069.

22 Paul d’Estrée, Le Théâtre sous la Terreur. Théâtre de la peur 1793-1794, Paris, 1913, p. 73.

23 Cited from Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860. Recueil complet des débats législatifs et politiques des Chambres françaises, ed. J. Mamidal and E. Laurent, Paris, 1867-1896, t. LXX, p. 134-5 (2 Aug. 1793).

24 A. Tissier, Les Spectacles à Paris..., t. II: De la proclamation de la République à la fin de la Convention nationale (21 septembre 1792-26 octobre 1795), Geneva, 2002, nos. 238, 2361.

25 Recueil des actes du Comité de salut public, ed. François-Alphonse Aulard, Paris, 1889-1951, t. XI, p. 214.

26 On performances of this work during the Revolution, see Antoinette and Jean Ehrard, «Brutus à la scène: autour du décret du 2 août 1793», in Les Arts de la scène et la Révolution française, ed. Philippe Bourdin and Gérard Loubinoux, Clermont-Ferrand, 2004, p. 293-311.

27 Recueil des actes du Comité de salut public..., t. VII, p. 295-296 (8 Oct. 1793).

28 Cited from Moniteur, 3 Febr. 1794.

29 [Joseph?] Payan to the Comité de salut public, 3 May 1794, cited from P. d’Estrée, Le Théâtre sous la Terreur..., p. 291.

Table des illustrations

Légende Graphique n°1. Gross takings per month.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 46k
Légende Graphique n°2. Average daily takings per month.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Légende Graphique n°3. Number of performance per month.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 65k
Légende Graphique n°4. Number of performance per day in each season.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 30k
Légende Graphique n°5. Gate receipts per day in each season.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 30k
Légende Tableau n°1. Number and proportion of new Works by season.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 38k
Légende Tableau n°2. Number and proportion by season of works premiered before and after the beginning of the 1789-1790 season respectively.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 30k
Légende Tableau n°3. Number and proportion of pre- and post- 1789 works by calendar year.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k
Légende Tableau n°4. Gross takings and average day s takings for each new work and for average of old Works17
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Légende Tableau n°5. Genre designations for all lyric works in the repertory, 1789-1794.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 341k
Légende Graphique n°6. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1788-1789.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Légende Graphique n°7. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1789-1790.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 22k
Légende Graphique n°8. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1790-1791.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 21k
Légende Graphique n°9. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1791-1792.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 51k
Légende Graphique n°10. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1792-1793.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 23k
Légende Graphique n°11. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1793-1794.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 23k
Légende Graphique n°12. Proportion of the season’s repertory by genre, 1794.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 21k
Légende Tableau n°6. Frequency of performance of individual works after Thermidor, by season (titles of new works are given in bold type).
URL http://books.openedition.org/enc/docannexe/image/459/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 133k

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