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Beyond the Notes: War and Opera in Eighteenth-Century France (Dr. Natasha Roule)*

Presented ByMason School of Music
When/WhereFriday, Feb 08, 2019 12:30pmdeLaski Performing Arts Building, 3001, de Laski Rehearsal Room, Fairfax Campus

School of Music students: MUSI 300 credit events are marked with (*).

When Jean-Baptiste Lully – the first composer of French opera, or the tragédie en musique – died in 1687, the musical landscape of France underwent a momentous transformation. Lully had held a monopoly over opera production during his lifetime, limiting the genre to audiences in Paris and the royal court, where the composer worked. His death enabled music directors in provincial cities across France to perform opera for the first time. In the hands of provincial directors, however, Lully’s operas underwent significant change as they were adapted to local tastes and politics.

In this talk, I examine productions of Lully’s tragédies that were performed in Strasbourg, a city at the northeast border of France. Produced in the years surrounding the War of Polish Succession (1733-1735), a pan-European conflict in which France was deeply involved, the productions featured significant alterations to Lully’s original operas. The alterations transformed the operas into pro-French war propaganda by highlighting the most political moments of Lully’s original libretti and scores. But while the operas advanced an image of French glory, they simultaneously reflected an ongoing cultural struggle between Strasbourg and the French Crown. Annexed by France only 50 years before the War of Polish Succession, Strasbourg was a historically Germanic city whose reception of French culture remained lukewarm well into the 18th century. The drastic cuts that Lully’s operas underwent at the Strasbourg Opéra reflect this continued cultural resistance to French domination. Ultimately, the productions demonstrate how opera in 18th-century France offered an opportunity for urban communities to express nuanced viewpoints about their government, especially in the context of war.


Dr. Natasha Roule received her PhD in historical musicology from Harvard University in 2018. Her research focuses on the convergence of opera, politics, and language in 17th- and 18th-century France, with an emphasis on the performance history of the tragédies en musique of Jean-Baptiste Lully. She is the recipient of multiple prestigious academic awards, including the Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Completion Fellowship. She is currently working on her first book, which explores the interplay between opera and absolutism in the provincial cities of ancien régime France.

Dr. Roule is committed to bridging the applications of her research to performance practice. In July 2018, she served on the faculty of Aquilon Music Festival, where she organized the modern premiere of La chûte de Phaëton, the only surviving parody opera from the 17th-century French provinces that targets the work of Jean-Baptiste Lully. She is also the co-founder and co-director of Les Enfants d’Orphée, a French baroque chamber ensemble.