Thursday, October 10, 2019

Grétry's "Richard Coeur-de-lion"

This week, at Versailles, a favorite opera of Marie-Antoinette, Grétry's Richard Coeur-de-lionis performed once more. From the Versailles website:
A king imprisoned, his knights come to the rescue pledging their loyalty in the famous tune “Ô Richard, Ô mon Roi”, intoned in the Royal Opera by Louis XVI’s Gardes du Corps during their banquet on October 1st 1789 to greet Marie-Antoinette and the King, unleashing the people’s wrath and bringing the angry crowds to Versailles, who then forced the royal family to leave the château on October 6th never to return…The end for Versailles and its Royal Opera. To celebrate its 250th anniversary, Grétry’s Richard Lionheart (1784), the most famous 18th century French comic opera in Europe for a century…and absent from the stage for decades, is returning to Versailles! 
Hervé Niquet and Marshall Pynkoski are taking this historical task into their hands. Grétry was Marie-Antoinette’s favourite composer and his “Richard” is both the acme of his career and the harbinger of a style adopted by the romantics, and also a powerful symbol of the end of an era. An occasion to place the opera at the heart of the history of France and of Versailles. And the first full production of the Royal Opera of Versailles since 1789! (Read more.)
Marie-Antoinette was a patroness of the opera; one of her favorite composers was André Grétry (1741-1813). Grétry was a staunch supporter of the throne and the Queen was godmother of his daughter, Antoinette. One of his most popular operas was Richard Coeur-de-Lion, which debuted at the Comédie-Italienne in 1784. Blondel's aria Ô Richard! Ô mon roi!, sung in honor of the imprisoned English crusader king, became the royalist anthem during the French Revolution. It is often forgotten that many of the French people continued to honor and love the sovereigns in spite of the many troubles and the tidal wave of revolutionary propaganda. The knowledge that they had some loyal subjects encouraged Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to stay in the country in 1789 when they probably should have departed.

Here are the words of first stanza of the aria, in French and English:
Ô Richard! Ô mon roi!
L'univers t'abandonne;
Sur la terre il n'est donc que moi
Qui m'intéresse à ta personne!
Moi seul dans l'univers,
Voudrais briser tes fers,
Et tout le reste t'abandonne!

O Richard! O my king!
The Universe abandons you!
On earth, it is only me
Who is interested in you!
Alone in the universe
I would break the chains
when everyone else deserted you!
Ô Richard! Ô mon roi! was sung by the Flanders regiment and the Royal Bodyguards at a banquet at the Versailles opera house on October 1, 1789. The Bodyguards were holding the banquet to honor the regiment which had been brought to Versailles to protect the Royal Family due to the recent disturbances. Madame Campan describes the incident thus:
The King had the Flanders regiment removed to Versailles; unfortunately the idea of the officers of that regiment fraternizing with the Body Guards was conceived, and the latter invited the former to a dinner, which was given in the great theater of Versailles, and not in the Salon of Hercules, as some chroniclers say. Boxes were appropriated to various persons who wished to be present at this entertainment. The Queen told me she had been advised to make her appearance on the occasion, but that under existing circumstances she thought such a step might do more harm than good; and that, moreover, neither she nor the King ought directly to have anything to do with such a festival. She ordered me to go, and desired me to observe everything closely, in order to give a faithful account of the whole affair.
The tables were set out upon the stage; at them were placed one of the Body Guard and an officer of the Flanders regiment alternately. There was a numerous orchestra in the room, and the boxes were filled with spectators. The air, “O Richard, O mon Roi!” was played, and shouts of "Vive de Roi!” shook the roof for several minutes....

...What was my astonishment at seeing the King, the Queen, and the Dauphin enter the chamber!...The enthusiasm became general; the moment their Majesties arrived the orchestra repeated the air I have just mentioned,...on all sides were heard praises of their Majesties, exclamations of affection, expressions of regret for what they had suffered, clapping of hands, and shouts of “Vive le Roi! Vive la Reine! Vive le Dauphin!” It has been said that white cockades were worn on this occasion; that was not the case; the fact is, that a few young men belonging to the National Guard of Versailles, who were invited to the entertainment, turned the white lining of their national cockades outwards. All the military men quitted the hall, and reconducted the King and his family to their apartments. There was intoxication in these ebullitions of joy: a thousand extravagances were committed by the military, and many of them danced under the King’s windows....
As the Queen had feared, the appearance of the Royal family at the dinner was distorted by the gazettes, and was seen as being an attack on the National Assembly. On October 5 the palace was invaded by rioters, and Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth and the children were taken to live at the Tuileries in Paris. In four years the king and queen would both be dead, with Madame Elisabeth soon to follow, and the children left to languish in prison. Ô Richard! Ô mon roi! continued to be sung by royalists; the words were sometimes changed to Ô LouisÔ mon roiAs for Monsieur Grétry, although he lost all of his property during the Revolution he did not lose his life, and continued to be honored for his music.

HERE is an article which claims it to be the last opera the King and Queen heard before they died. Since Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were not killed until 1793, and went to the Opera several more times while living at the Tuileries, then such is not the case. Share

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