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Jean-Baptiste Lully and l’Opéra français Part 1 Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

It seems that whenever people around the world think of the term opera, it is l’opéra italien that comes up first in their minds. But, all “chauvinistic” considerations aside (no doubt more suitable for the purpose of rehashing the “intricacies” of, say, some highly “theatrical” match finalde la Coupe du Monde de la FIFA), it is important to point out that the French were able to establish un opéra which wasfrançais in its very own right.

In fact, although this assertion may come as a  a little surprise to some, French opera was widely viewed, for a long time throughout Europe, as more raffiné than its comparatively older, more “colorful”, yet often frivolous, verging on the edge of the “buffonesque“, Italiano counterpart.

Lully, an Italian by birth, and pioneer -“Godfather-style”- of the French Opera (read some of the “gory details” below) was to eventually develop a more specifically “French style” of Opera, which, pour la petite histoire (as a side anecdote), would posthumously instigate two notable clashes on the French artistic and literary scenes: “La Querelle des Lullystes et des Ramistes“, the quarrel that pitted Lully’s own disciples and followers against those of Jean-Philippe Rameau (a Frenchman whose works were, ironically, often deemed “too Italian” in comparison to Lully’s.) The second quarrel was that of “la Querelle des bouffons“, in which -fittingly enough, given its name- a Jean-Jacques Rousseau was oh’ so “passionately” involved!

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That being said, one can also establish, with solid historical evidence at hand, that the inception of French opera owes a tremendous debt to the early Italian school.

Sans l’ombre d’un doute (without the shadow of a doubt), more than anybody else, including the less noted Pierre Perrin, pioneer of what is today l’Opéra national de ParisJean-Baptiste Lully ought to be considered by all, hands-down, as le fondateur of French opera.

Although he was d’origine italienne (of Italian background), or perhaps “because” of his Italian origin, “Giovanni Battista Lulli” was able to swiftly ascend the thorny throne of les compositeurs (the composers) who set shop at the royal court of le Roi-Soleil, the “Apollo-wanna-be”Louis XIV.

As Molièreor La Fontaine would both find out the hard way, Lully was elevated to this lofty musical rank thanks to a few treacherous “Godfather” combines (tricks.) To all his foes and competitors, he never shied away from making them “des offres qu’ils ne pouvaient lui refuser(“offers which they could not refuse to him”)…

He very much enjoyed l’aile protectrice (the protecting wing) of the so-called “Italian clique” that dominated the court. Headed by the astute cardinal Mazarin, whose birth name is actually Mazarini or Mazzarini,the roots of this powerful “Italian Connection” went all the way back to the tumultuous times of the “Sun King”‘s grandmother, the famous lady Marie de Médicis.

In many ways, cardinal Mazarin, literally godfather of the young Louis XIV, and even sometimes rumored to be his biological father, can be seen as the undisputed “parrain“(French for “Godfather”) of the “Italian Connection.” This Italian network was comparable to a “mafia” in the modern sense, and for a while dominated Louis XIV‘s entourage. At another level, the cardinal paved the way for the Italian-born Jean-Baptiste Lully to become the most dreaded composer of Louis XIV’s royal court

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À Suivre (To be Continued)

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