Thursday, December 13, 2007

Returns to normalcy

Tuesday, July 22. Mr. Foulon...was hanged by the people from a lantern...his head was cut off and his body was paraded and dragged through the streets.

Wednesday, July 23. Opera closed.

Thursday, July 24. Alceste.

---From the theater log of Louis-Joseph Francoeur, assistant director of the Paris Opera, 1789

It starts with a beheading, but it ends with Alceste--an opera about love, and substitution for one condemned to die. I wonder if this performance was widely known--or is it just coincidence that The Tale of Two Cities brings the Alcestis story into the context of the French Revolution?

In terms of plot, what better way to translate 'fate' or 'the will of the gods' into modern (even early modern) terms than 'an unstoppable social force'--war, or revolution? Theologically, well, theologically it makes sense in terms of the turn from pre-modern to modern, whether one agrees with it or not.

And maybe this is another aspect of Shakespeare's greatness: his ability to work in either medium. The gods of Cymbelline, the politics of Richard II, the churning mix of the two in Macbeth.

(Credit for the quote is due to a forthcoming book by Victoria Johnson entitled Backstage at the Revolution: How the Paris Opera Survived the End of the Old Regime. More from this, to be sure, later; it's fascinating stuff.)

1 comment:

Timothy McGovern said...

I'd mentioned Victoria Johnson's book as forthcoming: It's published: