Since 1714, when opéra-comique, as an operatic genre, was still a sort of experimental musical drama performed in the Théâtres de la Foire, the genre had always developed and operated its relevant affairs in an exceptionally limited legal space. By 1791, the free loose environment derived from a law issued by the National Assembly on 13 January merely existed for a brief period but provided it with opportunities to approach privilege that it had never had before. As the legacy of the Ancien Régime, many works of the genre were endlessly employed to carry out political propaganda by the authorities built after the French revolution, from a series of revolutionary governments to the First French Empire. In addition to those aimed at enhancing citizens’ national and political identity, a part of the works was engaged in the spread of modern legal thought because the political discourses implied by the productions can also be translated into a sort of legal publicity and education to some degree. This shows that law partook of the affairs related to opéra-comique, but the genre also refracted law and therefore participated in the construction of the legal system. During the turbulent period from 1780 to 1814, a sort of social system and an operatic genre, which may seem, at first glance, as two alien words separated by immense cultural and thematical differences, got involved in entanglements. Therefore, the heart of this project is to reveal such a complicated relationship and determine the social role that opéra-comique played in the modernisation of French society within the given period by responding to references, archives, operatic texts and paper media from the perspectives of traditional historiography, musicology and sociology.
There are three main research questions that this project will pose. First, what impacts have the continual legal system reforms had on matters related to opéra-comique? Second, what legal issues have representative works of the genre raised, how were these legal issues expressed through literary texts and musical texts of the works, and what is the relationship between these legal issues described and the legal system? Third and finally, how were these works received, and could the audience’s comments and attitude towards the works force the composers and librettists to revise the works and inspire authorities to reform laws?
The results obtained through this research ought to be able to shed light upon the reasons why opéra-comique was passionately interested in political expressions, offer additional evidence and explanations for the ambiguous and shifting relation of theatrical works and explicit political content and elucidate an operatic form’s practical contributions to a turbulent society.