In the second decade of the eighteenth century, the Parisian théâtres de la foire (fairground theaters) gave birth to French comic opera with the inception of the genre known as comédie en vaudevilles (sung vaudevilles interspersed between spoken dialogue). Vaudevilles were popular songs that “ran in the streets” and served as vessels for new texts that transmitted the latest news, scandals, and gossip around the city. Already in the seventeenth century, however, the Comédie-Italienne, the royally funded troupe charged with performing commedia dell’arte, began to create spectacles that incorporated street songs from the urban soundscape. In the late seventeenth century all three official theaters—the Comédie-Italienne, the Comédie-Française, and the Opéra—also infused the streets with new tunes that transformed into vaudevilles. This article explores the contribution of the nonoperatic theaters—the Comédie-Française and the Comédie-Italienne—to the vaudeville repertoire to show the ways in which theatrical spectacle shaped a thriving popular song tradition. I argue that because most theatrical finales were structured around many repetitions of a catchy strophic tune to which each actor or actress sang one or more verses, a newly composed tune used as a finale had an increased probability of transforming into a vaudeville. Some of the vaudevilles used in early eighteenth-century comic operas therefore originated in newly composed divertissements for the late seventeenth-century plays presented at the nonoperatic theaters. Other vaudevilles began as airs from operas that were also absorbed into the tradition of street song. By the early eighteenth century, fairground spectacles drew from a dynamic repertory of vaudevilles amalgamated from the most voguish tunes circulating in the city. The intertwined relationship of the popular song tradition and theatrical spectacle suggests that the theaters helped to mold the corpus of vaudevilles available to street singers, composers, and playwrights.
Songs That Run in the Streets: Popular Song at the Comédie-Italienne, the Comédie-Française, and the Théâtres de la Foire
John Romey received a PhD in historical musicology from Case Western Reserve University and is visiting assistant professor of musicology at Purdue University Fort Wayne. His articles and chapters on music and culture of early modern France have appeared in Early Modern French Studies, Tanz Musik Transfer, and Oxford Bibliographies. Research for the present article was supported in part by a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship in France, the Holmes/D’Accone American Musicological Society Travel Grant, and the CWRU College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship.
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John Romey; Songs That Run in the Streets: Popular Song at the Comédie-Italienne, the Comédie-Française, and the Théâtres de la Foire. Journal of Musicology 7 October 2020; 37 (4): 415–458. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2020.37.4.415
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