Traveling Tunes: French Comic Opera and Theater in London, 1714-1745
Levenson, Erica Pauline
Driven from their native theaters in 1718 by heightened censorship, French actors, musicians, and dancers quickly became showstoppers in a London already crowded with international theatrical attractions. These performers brought a unique type of entertainment to England—one steeped in social commentary and subversive humor, communicated in part by the intertextual connotations of French tunes, known as vaudevilles. The French performers commanded the stage for an entire evening’s entertainment and performed several times weekly; between 1718 and 1735, they produced over 175 musical comedies from the repertoire of the Théâtres de la foire, the Théâtre Italien, and the Comédie-Française. This dissertation unearths the flourishing circulation of French popular theater in London during the first half of the eighteenth century. Long overshadowed by later Enlightenment internationalism and musical cosmopolitanism, these performances reveal the transnational circuits traveled by French performers and music. To investigate the pathways by which French and English theatrical worlds collided, I compare London publications of French plays to their original versions; trace French tunes disseminated in a diverse range of English sources, including grammar books and music notebooks; and examine English ballad opera adaptations of French sources. In an era when the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ended a twenty-five year period of war between France and England, the flow of French performing arts and cultural goods to London increased ten-fold. However, England’s political relationship with France remained characterized by general suspicion and faltering alliances. Signs of this ambivalence also surface in the seemingly peaceful interactions between French and English artists, as well as in the texts they produced. I argue that the dual forces of comic theater and song provided an arena for dramatizing contacts between French and English identities that mirrored, but also deflected, these larger political anxieties. When viewed against the shifting political contexts of their time, these foreign theatrical encounters offered a playful space for commentary on Anglo-French relations and emerging notions of national identity.
English literature; Music; Anglo-French history; ballad opera; cultural exchange; eighteenth century music; French theater; London theater history; Theater history
Richards, Annette; Webster, James
Ph. D., Music
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis