Scanderbeg on the French Operatic Stage: the Turkish Subject as a Mediation for Fiction

Abstract : Scanderbeg, the great Albanian fighter of Turks, is one of the most famous oriental heroes: already present in French fictions of the end of the seventeenth century and of the beginning of the eighteenth, he appeared on the stage of the ballet as one of other examples of the chivalrous virtues as soon as 1723, on the stage of the college of Louis le Grand, and mainly in the tragédie en musique Scanderbeg, first performed at the Académie Royale de Musique, the Paris Opera, in 1735. But in reality, the libretto has been left unfinished by its author, Houdar de La Motte, dead in 1731, and disappointed by his failure with his last opera, Sémélé, in 1709. It seems that Scanderbeg was in reality a project of the opera directors Rebel and Francoeur, who were also the composers of the score, and who probably ordered another poet, La Serre, to finish the poem. We would like to come back to the context of such an opera: wonderfully staged for the creation, with a marvellous scenery by Servandoni, revived in 1763 for the court in Fontainebleau with a new production, this opera is one of the main examples of the taste for the “Turquerie”, understood as the manifestation of magnificence, and not so far from the imagery of fairy tales. But Scanderbeg is also the first French opera written on an historical subject, in the context of the production of ballets on oriental and contemporaneous matter, and only a few years after Jephté (Pellegrin, Montéclair, 1732), the first and only French tragédie en musique on a biblical subject. In this context, Scanderbeg can also be considered as a testimony of the shifting in the conception of fiction. Out of the classical model, the opera is, as the literary fairy tale, a modern genre without any model. We would like to show that, choosing a Turkish subject, Rebel and Francoeur want to assume both the marvel of the representation and the dignity of the serious subject, and by doing this, they suggest a kind of continuity of the fiction – that is, a whole invented world and subject without any direct reference in reality – from Wonderland to history, through the oriental inspiration.
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Laura Naudeix. Scanderbeg on the French Operatic Stage: the Turkish Subject as a Mediation for Fiction. Ottoman Empire and European Theatre IV, The Turkish Subject in Ballet and Dance from the Sixteenth Century Onwards, Don Juan Archiv, Unesco International Theatre Institute, Apr 2011, Vienne, Austria. ⟨hal-01762889⟩

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