9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Heroism Undone In The Erotic (Manuscript) Parodies of Lully's Tragédies Lyriques

Catherine E. Gordon-Seifert

In late seventeenth-century France, political erotica emerged as a means of dislodging myths of heroism promoted by Louis XIV. One of the most popular genres of political erotica were parodies of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s operas. Erotic opera parodies, like other forms of erotica, targeted anyone associated with the royal body and were part of a corpus of subversive literature that attempted to expose the hypocrisy and immorality that many associated with Louis XIV’s reign.

The erotic parodies of Lully’s works include some of the most serious moments in the Tragédies. Lycomède’s expression of victory about Alceste’s abduction (Scene 5, Act I, Alceste) becomes the macho musical utterance of a courtier who thinks he has successfully been cured of venereal disease. Attacked as well are the King’s generals, doctors, and even Lully, a sodomite who loves little boys and accepts expensive gifts from rich men for sexual favors. I will examine in particular one of the most extended parodies, Scenes 6/7, Act III, Bellerophon, that targets a Marquis' widow who must conjure up a "monstrous penis from Hell" to satisfy her sexual desire because men at court are impotent or disinterested in women. My analysis focuses on the multi-textual synthesis of original scenes, parody texts, dramatic function, and musical expression as multiples of parodic objectives. This parody demonstrates better than any others how the “original meaning” of Lully’s music, composed to represent a particular text, could be reinterpreted to convey new meaning: music representative of movements and images relating to sex acts.

This and other erotic parodies of Lully’s operas not only enabled the public to visualize in their minds perverse sexual activity at court, these parodies also permitted them to experience, through the music, a powerful sexual energy that ran counter to images of the hero and heroine in control of their passions. Ultimately, the erotic parodies of opera, as part of the larger corpus of political erotica, played a role in the destruction of noble ideals, perverting the very principles that vivified the royal community.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita