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Stripping away Rococo excess—The Music of Monsigny-The Libretto of Sedaine.

Sedaine by David

But the stripping away of Rococo excesses by the librettist Michel-Jean Sedaine (1719-1797) and the composer, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny (1729-1817) has more of a revolution even if it was unrecognized as such at court. Sedaine turned away from the past, from Racine and Corneille. The world of classical kings and heroines was of no interest to him and the ethic of courtly composure and checked passions is crumpled up into balls of paper and thrown into his poubelle (trashcan). Sedaine takes us into the world of the rustic hero and the sentimental heroine. His language is common and his humor, though sometimes reminiscent of Moliere, is not sharp, fine and probing but rather large-boned and gruff. This is the stuff of music hall entertainment. Courtiers are humiliated and ridiculed. The brilliance of the King is even questioned though his goodness taken as a given and his person, loved. Unlike the courtiers in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the courtiers of Sedaine are not monsters and personages of subtle evil. Choderlos de Laclos’ Mons. Valmont and Mme. Merteuil seduce and then destroy you. The villains in Le Roi et le fermier are cartoon figures. You hear them coming from a mile away and chuckle as you flee their villainy. #


An opera of Rameau begins with a French overture, grand, complex, steeped in tradition. An overture of Monsigny is a modern fanfare and allegro. Simple and clear energy replaces learned, demanding tradition. A Rameau opera has one grand aria for each act. A Monsigny opera is a string of popular songs. A Rameau opera is made of rhetorical, recitatives, complex singing accompanied by the continuo section. Monsigny’s theater form allows the actors to talk their parts, doing away entirely with the recitatives that plunged Marie Antoinette into a deep princesses’ sleep on May 16, 1770 at the inauguration of the opera house when she attended a performance of Persée, a Lully tragedie-lyrique. Rameau lives up to the entitled eroticism of Boucher’s paintings with dance music that celebrates corporal beauty. Monsigny leaves out dance and seems a prude by comparison. #


  1. Karen McLaughlin says:

    Andy, I just read the whole palace series and feel transported and uplifted. Thank you for a beautiful morning visit to Versailles and the Opera Royal. And congratulations to Opera Lafayette!

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