The script for a French opéra comique, adapted for the provincial stage

The script for a French opéra comique, adapted for the provincial stage

Étienne, Charles-Guillaume (1778 – 1845). Une heure de marriage: comédie en un acte, mêlée de chants. Paris: Chez Madame Masson, Libraire, An XII (1804). 47 pp.; 19 cm. A fine copy in thin boards, with a handwritten label to the front. Holograph revisions to the text, manuscript material inserted.

     The working script for a performance of a comic opera from the period of the First French Republic, with revised lyrics adapted for the provincial stage.

     A highly successful production of the Opéra-Comique at the Théâtre Feydeau, Une heure de marriage was the first of several collaborations between Étienne and the composer Nicolas Dalayrac. A romantic comedy, the play revolves around Germeuil, whose uncle has arranged a marriage with a wealthy heiress named Constance. However, Germeuil has already secretly married another woman, Elise. Elise and Constance are friends, and agree to change roles for an hour: pretending to be Germeuil’s wife, Constance plans to make his uncle regret his choice. Much to Germeuil’s surprise, however, Constance turns out to be a very charming young woman indeed. The usual misunderstandings, hijinks, and jealousies follow.

     The present example of the first printing of the script has been revised for performance, with song lyrics crossed out and replaced in manuscript. We suspect that this was done for a provincial staging of the work – the overall effect of the revised texts is to recast the songs in the meter of traditional airs. The score for Une heure de marriage was published around 1806, but this necessitated professional musicians learning new compositions. Easier to revert to traditional airs. Thus the complicated song for five voices in Scene VIII has been rewritten to be sung to the “Venés, Venés,” probably “Venez, venez, mon bel & doulx amy,” by the sixteenth-century composor Gilles Bracquet. In some cases Étienne’s lyrics have been adapted, in other cases, completely rewritten. The most interesting addition is a vaudeville finale that has no analogue in the published score.

     This copy, numbered “6” and with a  “G” to the front cover, is probably the copy used by the actor playing Germeuil. We think there is a good possibility that it belonged to Jausserand, an actor and singer who for much of his career was attached to the Théâtre Feydeau. While never rising to the first rank, Citizen Jausserand was a familiar presence on the Parisian stage during the years of the First Republic and is frequently mentioned in histories of the French stage. A contemporary described him thus:

JAUSSERAND, comédian assez agréable, utile, très-encouragé du public. Il devait cette faveur à une vivacité continuelle, à une chaleur qui, soit réelle, soit factice, produisait beaucoup d’effet ; à une diction rapide, accentuée, expressive ; à un jeu naturel et animé. Comme chanteur, il était peu distingué par la méthode ; mai une voix claire et d’un timbre sonore l’avait fait remarquer dans quelques rôles de l’emploi des Amoureux.

     In 1800, Jausserand announced for the first time that he was leaving the Théâtre Feydeau to pursue a career on the provincial stage, where his star, dimmed by the lights of Paris, would burn brighter. He organized a touring company that by all accounts was highly successful. But he repeatedly returned to the Feydeau. This may have been in part due to the fact that, according to P.-A. Vieillard, he was the Theater’s only male singer. He came back from the provinces to debut the part of Germeuil in the original production of Une heure de marriage on 29 ventôse an XII (20 March 1804), and it seems likely that it was he who adapted the operetta for local productions by his company. For much of the period between 1800 and 1810, Jausserand’s troupe was based in Caen, which is where this copy surfaced.

     An intriguing window into the history of opéra comique.

Selected References

  • Annales dramatiques, ou, Dictionnaire Général des Théâtres (Paris, 1810), 5: 196
  • Annee Théâtrale: Almanach pour l’An IX (Paris: Du Pont, An IX), pp. 91-92
  • Étienne, Charles-Guillaume. Une heure de marriage in Alphone François, ed., Œuvres de C. G. Étienne de l’Académie Française (Paris : Firmin Didot Frères, 1847), 2 : 85-153
  • Longuemare, Paul de. Le théâtre à Caen, 1628-1830 (Paris, 1895)
  • Lyonnet, Henry. Dictionnaire des Comédiens Français (Geneva, 1902-1908), 2: 215
  • Vieillard, P.-A. “Tablettes du Pianiste et du Chanteur,” Le Ménestrel 28 (1860), pp. 324-5

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