To the Question of the Use of the Term “Grand Opéra” at French Editions of 19th Century


This article considers features of existence of the term “grand opéra” at French editions of the 19th century. It is
accepted to consider now that “Muette de Portici” of D.-F.-E. Auber and E. Scribe (1828) is first French opera, deserving
the name “grand opéra”. This term, however, existed itself long before appearance of this composition and
used on a relation to various works, for example, to “ballet héroïque ‘Aline, reine de Golconde’” in three acts by
P. Monsigny (1766) or to opera “Ziméo” in three acts by J.-P.-É. Martini (represented as opéra-dialogué at 1800).
At the beginning of the century “grand opera” was the name for a theatre production premiered on the stage of
Académie Royale de musique foremost. After competition for “prix décennaux”, declared of Napoleon I in 1804
and coming to an end in 1810, “tragédies lyrique” began to be considered like “grand opéras” — tragedies, devoted
to the episodes of biographies of “Gods, tsars and heroes” and, as a rule, containing three acts. On the border
of 1820–1830s the term was enriched by new interpretations in connection with staging a number of operas in five
acts. “Muette de Portici” just became the first from them. It was written on a popular plot, in which authors added
the unconventional types of main characters. Critical responses of 1830s are devoted to the statement of genre
“grand opéra en cinq actes” as work, for that not every plots and expressive facilities are suitable, and therefore
to write in this genre extraordinarily difficult. Four decades from 1828 to the end of 1860s became the epoch of
bloom of “français grand opéra”. After a fire in the theatre of Académie Impérial de musique (1873) and moving
of presentations in a Palais Garnier (1875) “grand opéras” went back to the features of the “tragédies lyrique”
and “dramas lyrique”. In compositions of the last quarter of the century, in opinion of criticism, prevailed grace
and elegance; power and passion, however, once being basic characteristics of “grand opéra” style, were absent.