The American observer is often bemused by the importance, and the budget, that the French state attributes to culture. On this side of the Atlantic, where the White House attempted to zero out the modest budgets of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts for 2021, a cabinet-level culture appointment is unthinkable.

The strong bond between French identity and culture today harks back, mutatis mutandis, to the signal importance ascribed to official cultural production by the ancien régime and the control it attempted to exert over it. Starting with Louis XIV’s powerful minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, “the mercantilist association of economic and cultural development” (p. 30) was the foundation of the crown’s policy. One of the most valuable contributions of The Comedians of the King is to have integrated a deep dive into the business side of opéra-comique and the administrative machinery of culture, which...

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