Opera is a musical form of art in which the text is often sung. The singers enact the drama on stage, with costumes and other visual elements like dancing or a play of lights. Though it is often considered that opera was born in Italy around 1600, but even if Mazarin tried to import it to France at the end of the 1660's, it was only with the arrival of Jean-Baptiste Lully that opera began to take real importance in the country. It must first be highlighted that the opera was often considered, by many composers, as a good political way of expression since it is the most complete art form to show human passions, because of its various aspects: scenery, costumes, dancing, singing etc. Since the French revolution the opera was a good instrument of propaganda and vector of politics. The French opera was also a political anticipator and a "producer" of general trends. While the composers had to deal with censorship and other types of control, the messages delivered were sometimes more than just state propaganda. The "political opera" is nowadays a recognized type of opera, in which criticisms can be made.
[...] During the 19th century, there were policemen attending the shows to control what was happening and to keep people quiet and the French opera had to respect precise rules. The authors and composers, to have the possibility to have their shows played, had often to transform the reality changing for example the name of the state were the action was taking place or using metaphoric characters. The tiny relationship between French opera and French politics has been highlighted here: everything in the form and in the use made of it by the political leaders let us think that the French opera was, and maybe still is since it is yet partly financed by the state, a “product” of French official politics. [...]
[...] What is important to understand is that, in the form itself, the French opera permits the deliverance of a message. The chorus can be taken as an example of the peculiar incarnation of the political message inside the operas. Since the chorus is introducing, commenting and concluding the drama, it is seen as the voice of the public opinion. Contrary to Greek operas, the chorus plays a real role in the French operas, being an actor of the evolution of the story: everybody can write a country's history, not only the men at the top of the state. [...]
[...] As a conclusion, it is possible to say that the French opera was, to certain extend, a “product” of French politics since it was used by the political leaders to reinforce their power and to influence the public opinion. On the other hand, it is possible to say that the French opera was also a political anticipator and a “producer” of general trends. If the composers had to deal with censorship and other types of control, the messages delivered were sometimes more than just state propaganda. [...]
[...] II) The French opera creating a new French identity But if it is true that the French opera was really controlled and delivered the political messages the authorities wanted it to give, it also permitted to develop, in parallel, other kinds of political meanings. I will here try to show how, thanks to the opera, new actors could affirm themselves and how the “elitist” and official tone of the opera has to be relativized. The French opera transformed and developed during the ages, and is not anymore the official opera of Versailles. [...]
[...] The use of the opera to create a national and patriotic identity Finally, it is important to underline how the French opera permitted to deliver political messages that gathered French people and created a national identity. Even if today there are few rests of the revolution operas because of their low musical interest, the ones of this period permitted to express and spread the revolutionary ideas. At the same time, the development of the concept of “exoticism” in the opera permitted to create, by comparison, a French identity, with different French norms, customs and habits. [...]
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