Throughout his career in Paris (1658–73), Molière regularly incorporated music and dance into his plays. Account books, bills and receipts, contracts of association, musical scores, and other documents attest to Molière’s employment of professional instrumentalists, singers, dancers, choreographers, and musical directors at the Grande Salle du Petit Bourbon and the Théâtre du Palais Royal.
In 1671, in response to the success of Pierre Perrin’s Académie Royale des Opéras, the Troupe du Roy embarked on a new direction in music theater. The troupe’s renovation of the Palais Royal and their installation of a state-of-the-art transformation stage indicate an increased commitment to large-scale performances involving music, dance, and spectacle. This gives credence to the hypothesis that, before their split, Molière and Lully planned to acquire Perrin’s privilège and move into opera.
This according to “Musical practices in the theater of Molière” by John S. Powell (Revue de musicology LXXXII/1  5–37).
In 1664 Louis XIV gave his first great fête at Versailles, a small hunting box built by his father and which the Roi Soleil was transforming into the astonishing château that would materially represent the political, economic, and artistic supremacy of France. Officially honoring Queen Marie-Thérèse and Queen Mother Anne d’Autriche, the entertainments were in fact dedicated to Louise de La Vallière, the king’s first maîtresse en titre.
Foremost among those who took part in the spectacle was the young warrior king himself, clad in jewel-encrusted gold and silver armor as the chevalier Roger, who, at the bidding of the sorceress Alcine, arrives with his retinue to entertain the queens over the course of several days in Les Plaisirs de l’Île Enchantée.
Les plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (La Princesse d’Élide); George Dandin ou Le mari confondu (Le grand divertissemant royal de Versailles) (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2004) is a new edition of the keyboard score for the comédies-ballets La princesse d’Élide (1664) and George Dandin (1668); it is part of Olms’s Œuvres complètes of Lully.
Above, the official commemorative engraving of Festin du roi et des reines from 1664; below, excerpts from Lully’s score for La princesse d’Élide.
Music was commonly introduced into French plays at least by the time of Molière, but after Louis XIV gave Lully a monopoly on opera in 1673 this practice was drastically circumscribed. Actors protested politely at first, but Louis did not take the hint, so dramatists began to turn to their sharpest weapon: satire.
Operagoers were depicted as ridiculous losers, and operas as overblown and barbaric. Opera houses were portrayed as venues for illicit flirtation, and opera singers as people with questionable morals. Operas were said to bay at the moon, to have no new airs, and to employ monkeys instead of poets and musicians. While this derision had no apparent effect on the opera world, it gave French comedy a rich new subject.
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