On July 14, 1789, a crowd of angry French citizens en route to the Bastille broke into the Paris Opera and helped themselves to any sturdy weapon they could find. Yet despite its long association with the royal court, its special privileges, and the splendor of its performances, the Opera itself was spared, even protected, by Revolutionary officials. Victoria Johnson’s Backstage at the Revolution tells the story of how this legendary opera house, despite being a lightning rod for charges of tyranny and waste, weathered the most dramatic political upheaval in European history.
Sifting through royal edicts, private letters, and Revolutionary records of all kinds, Johnson uncovers the roots of the Opera’s survival in its identity as a uniquely privileged icon of French culture—an identity established by the conditions of its founding one hundred years earlier under Louis XIV. Johnson’s rich cultural history moves between both epochs, taking readers backstage to see how a motley crew of singers, dancers, royal ministers, poet entrepreneurs, shady managers, and the king of France all played a part in the creation and preservation of one of the world’s most fabled cultural institutions.