The Politics of Memory in French Baroque Opera


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




Early French opera brought classical and renaissance myths, stories, and characters to life in a vivid form of musical dramatic spectacle. Like the spoken tragedies of Corneille and Racine, French operas staged characters and plots deemed archaic or even “barbaric,” yet their gods, heroes, and shepherds gave voice to strikingly early modern French sentiments and themes, all set to music. This project proposes that French opera’s strategy of bringing archaic or “uncivilized” culture into an uneasy proximity with French early modernity—what I am terming its work of “memory”—allowed opera to mediate political problems arising in part from internal class relations and French colonial activity abroad.