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Thread: French opera tradition -- fairy tale -- why?

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    Default French opera tradition -- fairy tale -- why?

    In French opera (Manon, Hoffmann, etc.) we know that there are 2 "requirements" for a traditional production -- a ballet scene and a fairy tale scene.

    I can understand the dance segment -- many traditional operas have a dance sequence. But what I can't understand is the fairy tale sequence -- for example, in Tales of Hoffman, we get the story of Kleinsach.

    Does anyone know the origin of this tradition and why it persisted throughout French opera?

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    Senior Member JoeGreen's Avatar
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    Beats me, I think it might have something to do with Jean Baptiste Lully establishing that tradition as well as the ballet one.
    I adore art...when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear.

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    Fairy tales are a typical Romantic theme perhaps?

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    Romantic theme nonetheless, French opera has a "required" fairy tale as part of the story line. There must be a specific reason.

    I'm not familiar with Lully's operas. But even if they had a fairy tale in them, why would everyone else think it's requisite? At least it's speculation on his story lines which is more than I'd heard elsewhere.

    Oh well. If anyone actually knows why, I'd be interested.

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    Assistant Administrator Chi_townPhilly's Avatar
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    Not so sure I buy into the premise...

    Quick, name the most famous French opera of all time? Bizet's Carmen. Where's the fairy-tale element in that?

    My nominee for most underrated opera, Thomas' Mignon, I scan in vain for a fairy-tale element (unless you want to count the grafted 'happy-ending' [c.f. the same composer's Hamlet] as a 'fairy-tale-like' element).

    Two of the most famous opera composers in mid-19th century France were Meyerbeer & Halévy. They're not nearly so well-remembered today- but to the extent that they are, it is for (respectively) Les Hugenots and La Juive.
    Another less-remembered figure of French opera is Auber, whose most famous work Fra Diavolo is opéra-comique and falls outside discussion of French grand opera. His next most famous work Masaniello/La Muette de Portici is set against a gritty historical backdrop, like Hugenots.

    As against that, that Humperdinck opera is a fairy-tale in toto. To move from German to Italian, Rossini's La Cenerentola is also entirely a fairy-tale.

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    I'm not certain that the fairy tale thing is universal. It may apply mostly to 19th century works. The 3 French operas I'm most familiar with are Manon, Hoffmann, and Faust, because I've performed in all three. But I am certain that it's a sort-of tradition somehow.

    And all had the fairy tale segment. During rehearsals for Manon, the director even spoke of it as "the obligatory fairy tale sequence". Sadly I was too busy trying to flirt with Poussette to think about asking then. At least the Poussette thing worked out okay -- we ended up dating for about 2 years and are still friends.

    But now, in my dotage, I'm wondering about that ol' fairy tale thingie again.

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