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The Comedians of the King: "Opéra-Comique" and the Bourbon Monarchy on the Eve of Revolution
by Julia Doe
University of Chicago Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-0-226-74339-4 | Cloth: 978-0-226-74325-7

Opera in ancien régime France was an eminently political art, tied to the demands of court spectacle. This was true not only of tragic opera (tragédie lyrique) but also its comic counterpart, opéra comique, a theatrical form tracing its roots to the seasonal trade fairs of Paris. While historians have long privileged the genre’s popular origins, opéra comique was brought under the protection of the French crown in 1762, thus consolidating a new venue where “official” music was debated and defined.

In The Comedians of the King, Julia Doe traces the impact of Bourbon patronage on the development of opéra comique in the turbulent pre-revolutionary years. This book presents the history of an understudied genre and the institutional structures that supported it, determining how changes in royal sponsorship contributed to the rapid evolution of this lyric form. Drawing on both musical and archival evidence, Doe demonstrates how comic theater was exploited in, and worked against, the monarchy’s carefully cultivated public image—questions that became especially urgent after the ascension of the music-loving Marie Antoinette. The Comedians of the King examines the aesthetic and political tensions that arose when a genre with popular roots was folded into the Bourbon propaganda machine, and when actors trained at the Paris fairs became official representatives of the sovereign, or comédiens ordinaires du roi.

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