Tea with the Queen
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Chantons, célébrons notre reine.
L'Hymen qui sous ses loix t'enchaîne,
Va nous rendre à jamais heureux.
~ Iphigénie en Aulide (Gluck)
"Let us sing, celebrate our Queen./ Marriage which binds you under its laws,/ Will make you happy forever." The chorus from Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide quickly became Marie-Antoinette's theme song, as it was sung to praise her at the Paris debut of the opera in 1774. In the words of her biographer Imbert de Saint-Amand:
As the Queen's maid, Madame Campan, describes it:When, at the beginning of the second act of Gluck's Iphigenia, the chorus exclaims: "Sing, let us celebrate our queen," the public turns toward [Marie Antoinette] and salute her enthusiastically....How she animates by her gaiety, how she illumines by her smile, this grand palace of Versailles which, without her, would be so dismal! What life there is in the private balls which she gives every Monday in her apartments! People dance there for the pleasure of dancing, without ceremony and without etiquette. The ladies come in white dominos, and the men in their ordinary attire. Here shines one of the most poetic and sympathetic of women, the Princess de Lamballe, that twenty-year-old widow who will be Marie Antoinette's best and most faithful friend....
The opera Iphigénie was a political and moral triumph for the young Queen. According to a biography of Gluck:Paris did not cease, during the first years of the reign, to give proofs of pleasure whenever the Queen appeared at any of the plays of the capital. At the representation of "Iphigenia in Aulis," the actor who sang the words, "Let us sing, let us celebrate our Queen!" which were repeated by the chorus, directed by a respectful movement the eyes of the whole assembly upon her Majesty. Reiterated cries of 'Bis'! and clapping of hands, were followed by such a burst of enthusiasm that many of the audience added their voices to those of the actors in order to celebrate, it might too truly be said, another Iphigenia. The Queen, deeply affected, covered her eyes with her handkerchief; and this proof of sensibility raised the public enthusiasm to a still higher pitch.
The road to the production of Iphigénie had been a bumpy one, as the one article says:The opera proved an enormous success. The beautiful Queen herself gave the signal for applause in which the whole house joined. The charming Sophie Arnould sang the part of Iphigénie and seemed to quite satisfy the composer. Larrivée was the Agamemnon, and other parts were well sung. The French were thoroughly delighted. They fêted and praised Gluck, declaring he had discovered the music of the ancient Greeks, that he was the only man in Europe who could express real feelings in music. Marie Antoinette wrote to her sister: "We had, on the nineteenth, the first performance of Gluck's 'Iphigénie,' and it was a glorious triumph. I was quite enchanted, and nothing else is talked of. All the world wishes to see the piece, and Gluck seems well satisfied."
The composer had also to contend with Madame du Barry, who favored the Italian Piccini over Gluck. To quote:Iphigénie en Aulide was the first of the seven operas that Gluck composed for Paris, although it was not actually commissioned by the Académie Royale de Musique. After Paride ed Elena failed to meet with success in Vienna in 1770, Gluck's thoughts turned elsewhere. He had already written and adapted several French opéras comiques for Vienna and he had admired and studied the tragédies lyriques of Lully and Rameau; their influence can certainly be seen in Gluck's three Viennese ‘reform’ operas, Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste and Paride ed Elena. It was inevitable that, having incorporated many features of French opera into his latest works, Gluck should be drawn to the French stage itself.
So, in the early 1770s, with no certainty of a production, Gluck set the libretto of Iphigénie en Aulide written by Roullet, an attaché to the French Embassy in Vienna. The two men then began to plan their conquest of Paris, a matter involving artistic politics and diplomatic letters to the Académie Royale and the French press. The directors of the Académie Royale, fearing that Iphigénie en Aulide would drive existing French operas off the stage, were reluctant to accept the work unless Gluck agreed to write five more operas for them. However, with the support of the Dauphine, Gluck's former singing pupil Marie Antoinette, the composer arrived in Paris in 1773 and, after six months of strenuous rehearsals, during which Gluck's demands on his performers were exigent, sometimes abrasive, occasionally furious, Iphigénie en Aulide finally reached the stage.
The triumph of Iphigénie was followed by Armide and Iphigénie en Tauride. As one account says:On the arrival of Piccini, Madame du Barry began activities, aided by Louis XV himself. She gathered a powerful Italian party about her, and their first act was to induce the Grand Opera management to make Piccini an offer for a new opera, although they had already made the same offer to Gluck. This breach of good faith led to a furious war, in which all Paris joined; it was fierce and bitter while it lasted. Even politics were forgotten for the time being. Part of the press took up one side and part the other. Many pamphlets, poems and satires appeared, in which both composers were unmercifully attacked. Gluck was at the time in Germany, and Piccini had come to Paris principally to secure the tempting fee offered him. The leaders of the feud kept things well stirred up, so that a stranger could not enter a café, hotel or theater without first answering the question whether he stood for Gluck or Piccini. Many foolish lies were told of Gluck in his absence. It was declared by the Piccinists that he went away on purpose, to escape the war; that he could no longer write melodies because he was a dried up old man and had nothing new to give France. These lies and false stories were put to flight one evening when the Abbé Arnaud, one of Gluck's most ardent adherents, declared in an aristocratic company, that the Chevalier was returning to France with an "Orlando" and an "Armide" in his portfolio.Professor Amy Wygant of the University of Glasgow describes in her article entitled "Fire, Sacrifice, Iphigénie" how the sacrifice of Iphigenia in Gluck's opera foreshadowed that of Marie-Antoinette:It is said the Gluck composed "Armide" in order to praise the beauty of Marie Antoinette, and she for her part showed the deepest interest in the success of the piece, and really "became quite a slave to it." Gluck often told her he "rearranged his music according to the impression it made upon the Queen."
"Great as was the success of 'Armide,'" wrote the Princess de Lamballe, "no one prized this beautiful work more highly than the composer of it. He was passionately enamored of it; he told the Queen the air of France had rejuvenated his creative powers, and the sight of her majesty had given such a wonderful impetus to the flow of ideas, that his composition had become like herself, angelic, sublime."
Many years later, during the Restoration of 1814-15, the chorus from Iphigénie en Aulide was sung to honor Marie-Antoinette's daughter, as is told in the novel, Madame Royale. Imbert de Saint-Amand describes one such see in his book The Duchess of Angoulême and the two restorations, saying:And it seems that, in the midst of the public mania occasioned by the opera, [Marie-Antoinette's] identity had somehow merged with that of the erstwhile sacrificial victim. We know from a report in the Mémoires secrets of 14 January 1775 that on the night of 10 January, when the new queen was in the audience, Le Gros, singing the part of Achille, modified the second act chorus, 'Chantez, célébrez votre reine', sung as he introduces Iphigénie to his countrymen. On this occasion, Le Gros turned to the queen and sang, 'Chantons, célébrons notre Reine,/Et l'hymen qui sous ses lois l'enchaîne/Va nous rendre à jamais heureux!' The queen reportedly wept tears of joy, and the people, 'la foule' outside the theatre, played the same part as the chorus on the stage, for, following the performance, 'l'allégresse du peuple n'a pas moins éclaté, et la foule a suivi la Princesse autant qu'elle a pu avec les acclamations ordinaires de vive la Reine, etc.'.41
In about twenty years, in 1793, this crowd would see to her execution, and this returns us to the odd ability of music to prefigure the political. Marie-Antoinette had literally patronized a revolution in music, and allowed herself from its beginning to be collapsed upon its most fragile figure. Both of them, Iphigénie and the young queen, in these early days, frustrated the structure of sacrifice. On the stage, this chorus calling for the people to celebrate their queen became a political flashpoint. At the performance of 10 December 1790 the singer Lainez apologized before beginning it: 'Messieurs, tout bon Français doit aimer son roi et sa reine; ainsi je vais commencer.' Two days later the performance was disrupted at this point and there were riots in the streets afterwards. The municipality reprimanded the singer and banished the words 'roi', 'reine', and 'trône' from the stage for ten years.42
All Bordeaux was stirring on the 5th of March. It flocked to the banks of the Gironde, at which the Princess and her husband were to land. Louis XVI's daughter had never visited this royalist city, and she was awaited with mingled feelings of curiosity and veneration. At one o'clock in the afternoon the beautiful gondola of the Duke and Duchess appeared. It was preceded and followed by a great number of boats handsomely decorated with white flags. At the moment when the daughter and the nephew of Louis XVI left their craft to take carriage, twenty young men and the same number of young girls dressed in white attached themselves to the carriage and proceeded to draw it. The streets were strewn with verdure, and the houses hung with tapestry, while flowers were scattered profusely along the path of the triumphal procession. When it paused for an instant at the Place de la Comedie, a band of musicians, placed in the gallery surmounting the peristyle of the Grand Theatre, rendered the famous chorus from the Iphigénie: —
"Let us sing and celebrate our queen,"—
a chorus of which Marie Antoinette was very fond and which had very often been sung in her honor.
Because I really did not spy, it is terrible that I cannot defend myself.
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