Massenet, Marianne and Mary : Republican morality and Catholic tradition at the opera
The social and political practice of the French Third Republic resonated with a variety of contrasting ideologies which were reflected in cultural products and their reception, including opera. The operas of Jules Massenet, the most successful Parisian opera composer of his time, provide a good example of this kind of cultural mediation. A close examination of Massenet's operas will thus allow a re-evaluation of the complex interaction between art and society in musical culture at the end of the nineteenth century in France. Representative case-studies have been chosen, and the works are read in the contemporary Parisian context of moral and political debate. I examine the operas with respect to the choice of subject matter, the libretto and its genesis (especially transformations made in the process of creating a libretto), the music (both in it srelation to the specific drama and musical convention of the time), the staging and its messages, and the critical reception in the press. The main chapters are dedicated to the following issues: 1. Mary or Marianne? The social, moral and cultural context, particularly regarding women, is explored via a close reading of sources from the second half of the nineteenth century. 2. Le Pretre, la Femme et la Familie. Anticlericalism and Republicanism as reflected in Massenet's opera Herodiade and its reception history are addressed. Also discussed is the icon of the Republican mother, sexual desire and the question of divorce (hotly debated at the time of the opera's premiere). 3. Dreams of Decadence, or the Death of Positivism. Viewing the medium of the dream scene in Massenet's operas Herodiade and then Thai's, this chapter allows an exploration of the significance of the dream world and degeneracy in the'decadent and symbolist aestheticso f the last two decadeso f the nineteenthc entury in France, and their implications for the reigning Third-Republican positivist ideology. 4. La Pornocratie. This reading of the opera Thais addresses the way in which French fin-de-siecle art and society dealt with the `femme nouvelle'. Programmatic orchestral music in opera and its capacity to translate human passions and voice is examined.