Directorial License and the Staging of French Baroque Opera

Because of such scant evidence, the actual staging of men, women, monsters and machines remains one of the more elusive aspects of tragédies en musique. Although scores and libretti provide some information via scene rubrics and the sung text itself, nonetheless such sources still raise many questions.  What functions did entr'actes, preludes and ritornelli play relative to staging?  At what point in the music and/or action did entrances occur and from where?  What sorts of decisions did those in charge of the staging make and for what reasons?  Two sets of prompt notes - one for a 1748 production of André Campra's Tancrède by Mme de Pompadour's troupe in the petits appartements at Versailles and the other apparently for a projected 1778 production of Lully's Armide as part of an historical retrospective of operas from Lully to Piccini - provide us with some of the answers to the questions posed above.  For example, the author of the Tancrède prompt notes often called for an entrance during a prelude. In contrast, the Armide prompt notes, whose author Lois Rosow has identified as Louis-Joseph Francoeur, more often indicate an entrance at the end of a prelude.  At one point in Tancrède, when no prelude provides for a soldier/messenger's entrance, the prompt note logically indicates his entrance over the last two measures of Tancrède's monologue air. Although written thirty years apart and even more years after each work's premiere (Armide in 1686 and Tancrède in 1702), a detailed examination and comparison of the two sets of notes reveals the not insignificant degree of directorial license that must have also been part of what we heretofore have regarded as a genre bound by tradition.

Antonia L. Banducci
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Lamont School of Music, University of Denver, USA