In this meticulously documented study, Rebecca Harris-Warrick mobilizes a wide array of musical, iconographic, and textual evidence to argue for the dramaturgical significance of dance in French Baroque opera. The primary objective is to establish ‘an integrative model for French opera that includes the dancing instead of marginalizing it’ (p. 1). Harris-Warrick aims to correct what she views as a pervasive misconception concerning the role of the divertissement in the works of Jean-Baptiste Lully and his successors. She deliberately downplays the presence of theoretical accounts of dance and does not, for instance, offer a close parsing of the critical texts that have laid the foundation for the mistaken view that dance is merely decorative and of negligible dramatic import. She advances a ‘work-centered approach’ that places the emphasis on ‘librettos, scores, and—where they exist—choreographic notations, more than on theoretical writings, past or present’ (p. 1). The book’s coverage of the tradition extends from Lully to the early 1730s, while a projected second volume will examine the operas of Jean-Philippe Rameau. The clarity of organization and style of presentation are exemplary. The first part of the study examines Lully’s output in both tragic and ‘lighter’ genres. The opening chapter usefully sketches a range of functions for the divertissement through snapshots of three of his best-known collaborations with the dramatist Philippe Quinault: Alceste, Atys, and Armide. A principle highlighted here that inflects some of the most stimulating readings of works later in the volume is the social aspect of group activity embodied by dancing: Harris-Warrick interprets the various subject positions and functions assumed by the dancers in Alceste (1674) to mirror, if not directly to imitate, the types of social behaviour prevalent in Louis XIV’s court (pp. 11–12). Other interpretative insights with further ramifications are that divertissements may displace communication among dramatic agents onto the bodies of dancers and that they may function as outlets of conflict. The chapters that follow skilfully survey the range of sources and methodological principles that bring the ‘mechanics’ of Lully’s divertissements into focus. This section offers both general and work-specific insights that will undoubtedly shape continuing scholarly work and historically informed performance of this repertory. The second part of the book is organized around the concept of ‘rival muses’, as Harris-Warrick surveys the landscape of the Académie Royale de Musique after Lully’s death with the muses of comedy (Thalie), tragedy (Melpomène), and dance (Terpsichore) serving as notional guides. This section examines important developments at the Opéra between Lully and Rameau: the rise of opéra-ballet, exchanges between Italian and French traditions, new approaches and challenges to the tragédie en musique (with an increased significance of divertissements, ‘crucial sites where such tensions played themselves out’ (p. 204)), and a turn towards greater ‘theatricality’ and comic licence under the influence of spoken theatre and parodies in works such as André Campra’s Le Carnaval de Venise (1699) and Les Fêtes vénitiennes (1710). The period from 1687 to the early 1730s forms a central part of the story Harris-Warrick is telling about the complex role of dance in the evolution of French opera. The historiographical irony is that the availability of reliable musical scores becomes more convoluted in a period when other facets of production emerge into sharper definition: for instance, dancers begin to be identified regularly in livrets (allowing for a clearer picture of the trajectories of individual careers) and more choreographies are notated, yet this precision is countered by the ‘messiness’ (p. 212) of the surviving musical sources. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why this territory has suffered relative neglect in the scholarly literature. Along with Georgia Cowart’s The Triumph of Pleasure: Louis XIV and the Politics of Spectacle (2008), which extends its purview into the early eighteenth century, the present volume should inspire greater interest in still-obscure material. By rigorously pursuing a ‘work-centered approach’, Harris-Warrick outlines the limits to which the historical reconstruction of dance in this repertory can be pushed. Given the author’s command of a vast range of sources, the impression at the end of the volume is that one has encountered a kind of ‘critique’ of what can and cannot be known about the subject matter. One of Harris-Warrick’s closing gestures is the concession that ‘We may no longer be able to see the spectacle in all its reality with our own eyes, but we can at the very least honor its riches’ (p. 445). This observation circles back to a citation from Durey de Noinville’s Histoire du Théâtre de l’opéra en France depuis l’établissement de l’Académie royale de musique, jusqu’à present (1753) that frames the study: ‘Opera is a spectacle made as much for the eyes as for the ears’ (p. 1). Perhaps the key challenge in the study, then, is the possibility of recovering the visual ‘reality’ of dance. Much of this ‘reality’, as Harris-Warrick acknowledges at various points, is quite simply unrecoverable, and informed speculation with the tools offered by surviving sources is the best that can be achieved. To clarify the practices of Lully’s stage works, for instance, Harris-Warrick draws from contemporaneous materials that document the handling of dance and stage action in the machine play Circé of 1675, with music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the mascarade Le Mariage de la grosse Cathos of 1688, with music by André Danican Philidor l’aîné. The volume also reproduces effective iconographic evidence, including plates from Gregorio Lambranzi’s Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul (New and Curious School of Theatrical Dancing, 1716), costume designs from the Opéra, and notated choreographies. Harris-Warrick cautions, however, that the images from Lambranzi do not show exactly what might have been seen at the Opéra but rather represent a style that is ‘located along a continuum of movement that drew upon a common technique’ (p. 232). This idea of a ‘continuum of movement’ appears elsewhere with her observation that dance ‘does not occupy a category of its own, but falls at one end of a continuum of movement’ (p. 140). This observation invites more attention to theatrical gesture both within the divertissement and in scenes of recitative, precisely because the study has effectively blurred hard-and-fast distinctions between ‘dramatic scenes’ and ‘divertissements’ as containers, respectively, of dramatic action and spectacle. An opportunity to amplify this point arises with the discussion of the chaconne in Act II of Acis et Galatée, in which Galatée does not dance. Harris-Warrick suggests that in place of dancing Marthe Le Rochois ‘would turn the instrumental sections of the chaconne into something dramatic’ (p. 195), given that her acting in the role of Armide had recently impressed audiences at the Opéra. What might this ‘dramatic’ action have constituted? Moreover, when Harris-Warrick characterizes the cyclops in the same work as receiving ‘comic choreographic treatment’ and ‘comic exaggeration’, and as being ‘made to look awkward and inept’ (p. 197), what types of gestural language would have been available to performers in these instances? A footnote refers to choreographies of the scene dating from after Lully’s death and only hints at—rather than specifying—what this ‘comic exaggeration’ might involve. The ambiguity about performance practice resurfaces with the discussion of the ‘little buffo set-piece’ of Italian characters that closes Astrée (1691), where the chaconne ‘invites comic treatment’ (p. 220). Given that the ‘comic’ is such a contested category in French Baroque opera, what more can be said about its realization in performance? Could historical studies on the conventions of theatrical gesture be drawn in to give greater detail to the ‘continuum of movement’ to which dance belongs? A further question prompted by the problem of visuality concerns the dramaturgical significance of the interaction of divertissements and stage design. Harris-Warrick briefly describes the layout of the stage at the Académie Royale de Musique (p. 90) and aspects of the configuration and general placement of dancers (pp. 96–7), but more might have been done to relate décor, stage machinery, and dance within divertissements as a way of integrating ‘spectacle’ and ‘drama’. An intriguing aside about the ‘superb palace in the middle of a garden’ of Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus points to a possible ‘self-reflexivity’ in which stage design may refer to the opera house itself (p. 158). Other comments on stage properties and décor are sprinkled throughout the volume, including descriptions of the appearance of Vulcan’s forge in the second act of Psyché (p. 175), the use of candles and the costuming of slaves as masters in ‘Les Saturnales’ of Les Fêtes grecques et romaines (1723) (pp. 307–8), and the stage lit by torches in Act IV of Hypermnestre (1716) (pp. 337 and 341–2). There is enough of interest here to suggest that conceiving dance as a key aspect of operatic dramaturgy may require more consideration of how it interacts with stage décor and fictional sites of action. Given the ambition of combining a broad chronological survey with detailed examination of works, the minimizing of theoretical and aesthetic texts proves to be a practical, even necessary, move. Occasional citations from period sources such as Claude-François Menestrier, Jean-Laurent Lecerf de la Viéville, and Jean-Baptiste Dubos nonetheless help to support observations about staging practices and other matters of detail. Also judicious is Harris-Warrick’s concern with chronology: she is careful when citing theoretical texts from the mid-eighteenth century about the degree to which they may accurately reflect past practices. Harris-Warrick argues that accounts from the encyclopédistes in the mid-eighteenth century originate from a period after which ‘more than one major aesthetic shift had occurred’ (p. 28). Certainly the deep scepticism concerning dance and spectacle in the tragédie en musique among figures such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau is well known and probably unnecessary to rehearse, although these sources partly shaped the views of Baroque dance Harris-Warrick is challenging here. Presumably Louis de Cahusac will feature more prominently as both a theorist and collaborator with Rameau in this study’s sequel, where his La Danse ancienne et moderne, ou Traité historique de la danse (1754) can function as a period source. More striking than this decentring of theory and criticism is the avoidance of close engagement with recent scholarship on operatic dramaturgy (as opposed to dance scholarship, which is well represented). Harris-Warrick is obviously aware of this work and points to it in several citations and the bibliography, yet some of this literature also contains sympathetic and close readings of divertissements that attempt to integrate dance into a broader dramaturgical perspective. These studies include Jean-Noël Laurenti’s Valeurs morales et religieuses sur la scène de l’Académie Royale de Musique (1669–1737) (2002), which is approvingly cited in this regard (p. 22). Other studies that have recognized the dramatic importance of the divertissement include Buford Norman’s Touched by the Graces: The Libretti of Philippe Quinault in the Context of French Classicism (2001) and Laura Naudeix’s Dramaturgie de la tragédie en musique (1673–1764) (2004). Even Cuthbert Girdlestone, who summarily characterized divertissements as ‘static parts’ and a ‘periodic interruption of the action’ (La Tragédie en musique (1673–1750) considérée comme genre littéraire (1972), 7 and 42), sought to correct the view that Quinault did not at least attempt to link all of the divertissements to the dramatic action. In this regard Girdlestone’s basic position seems largely congruent with Harris-Warrick’s observation that ‘a divertissement may or may not further the action, but by virtue of its salience within the act it always participates in the drama’ (p. 23). The distinguishing concern for Harris-Warrick is not that divertissements merely belong to the action by having a minimal and plausible grounding in the plot but that they develop or heighten the action. Against the stereotypical function of ‘distraction’, she seeks to demonstrate instances in which divertissements ‘intensify’ dramatic conflicts (p. 15). Yet considering only the work of Laurenti, Norman, and Naudeix, the following claim in the present study seems overstated: ‘Opera historiography, victim of its own prejudices, has painted all the dancing on the stage of the Opéra with the same brush’ (p. 445). Like these scholars, Harris-Warrick often bases her discussion of the divertissements on stage indications and sung texts, with dance as an embodiment of the meanings inscribed in these texts; this verbal focus is particularly apparent when the absence of any surviving choreographic evidence by necessity shifts the focus from bodies and spectacle to the verbal medium in shaping dramatic meaning. None of the previous studies just mentioned, however, interprets so many sources with so expert a grasp of the ‘mechanics’ of dance as does Harris-Warrick, whose work lends greater depth and at times theatrical ‘reality’ to the types of hermeneutic insights broached in studies that have focused almost exclusively on livrets. That the full reconstruction of the totality of a given work or performance is impossible does not, of course, negate the imperative of the counsel offered here to learn to listen to ballet music and register the importance—and perhaps more critically, the astonishing diversity—of dance in French Baroque opera. This volume offers both an attractive and authoritative means of following this counsel. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Music and Letters – Oxford University Press
Published: May 15, 2018
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