9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Opera Parodies of Florent Carton Dancourt

John S. Powell

In his landmark 1941 article "Seventeenth-Century Parodies of French Opera," Donald Jay Grout traced the practice of operatic parody in Parisian theater, particularly as it related to plays performed by the Comédie-Italienne beginning in the 1690s and published in the Théâtre Italien de Gherardi (1717).  The target of these comedies, written in French but featuring the stock commedia dell'arte characters, was for the most part the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully—which after the composer's death in 1687 continued to form the standard repertory at the Académie Royale de Musique.

Opera parody, however, emerged in dramatic literature at the time of French opera’s creation.  Several comedies of the 1670s allude to Pierre Perrin (the poet who held the royal opera privilège before Lully) and his musical collaborator Robert Cambert, to Lully and his librettist Philippe Quinault, to opera singers and opera mania in Paris, to Lully's draconian restrictions on theatre music, and to performances at Académie Royale de Musique.  At the time of the formation of the Comédie-Française in 1680 appeared the first French play to borrow music from Lully's recent operas.

Two early comedies by the prolific playwright and actor Florent Carton Dancourt (1661-1725) made significant use of parody.  Whereas Angélique et Médor (1685) referred to several earlier operas (Cadmus, Atys, Alceste, Amadis, Roland), Dancourt's Renaud et Armide (1686) targeted Lully's latest opera, Armide.  In these parodies the author extracted music, lyrics, and dramatic situations from the operas and placed them in a burlesque context that completely altered their original effect.  Unlike those of the Italian actors, the parodies of Dancourt were performed during Lully's lifetime at the time of the premières of his operas.  Along with tantalizing glimpses at the opera scene in Paris, they offer new insight into the 17th-century practices of opera parody.

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Last updated on 23 May 2000 by Yo Tomita