Question One: Discuss two examples to illustrate the Jockey Clubs powerful influence over the French opera.
The Jockey Club de Paris is still in existence today but remains more famous for its role in the 19th-century French society. It was founded in 1834 to promote horse breeding for sport but rapidly became a gentlemans club for the most elite men in Paris. The club enjoyed a degree of political power given that during the 19th century the elite class also formed the ruling class. The members of the Jockey Club were avid opera attendees in the 19th century and early 20th century. They held special boxes at the Opera due to their status as perennial ticket holders and their high standing in society. The Club also dictated taste and fashion in Paris, and its presence at the opera made it classy to attend. This status gave the club considerable clout within the Opera which often bent to the will of the club.
The most famous example of the influence of the Jockey Club on the opera remains the debacle of the Paris Tannhauser of 1861. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) arrived in Paris in 1859 promising forward-thinking art at the opera. He had the support of Napoleon III though his perceived arrogance won him little favor within Paris' elite class. In his production of the French version of Tannhauser, Wagner moved the musical elements from the voice to the orchestra to allow the script to stand out and not be drowned by the melody. This move was very radical at the time and did not go down well with members of the Jockey Club. Additionally, Wagner bluntly declined to put the ballet at the beginning of the second act as was the custom at the French opera. He put it at the beginning of the first act. This was a tradition in honor of the Jockey Club whose members seldom attended the first act as they were dining but came in time for the second act and expected to see the ballet.
Wagners disregard for traditional French opera production technique and his refusal to put the ballet in the second act particularly infuriated the Jockey Club members. The members showed their fury by constantly disrupting the act during its premiere on March 13th, 1861. They did this using whistles (they distributed to audiences) and at times compelled the act to stop for as much as 15 minutes in the presence of the Emperor. The opera received the same treatment during subsequent presentations forcing Wagner to cancel the performances and leave Paris never to return.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) politicised opera in his native Italy in a bid to promote the unification of Italy. He became known for his political messages in operas and their realism, attempting to showcase the performer's state of mind rather than just their singing talent. However, Verdi was compelled to edit his work for the French opera because the Jockey Club members opposed any overtly politicized messages at the opera. They feared that this might inspire nationalism in France. This reduced Verdi's artistic imprints in his operas.
The Jockey Club enjoyed a significant stranglehold on the French opera. This grip placed limitations on artistic expression at the opera. It prevented some genuinely revolutionary work from gaining recognition. The refusal of the club to see Wagner's work for its brilliance and instead sabotage it due to the ballets positioning looks absurd in retrospect. Wagner's Paris Tannhauser achieved better recognition with the waning of the clubs political and social clout. The club prevented the opera from becoming a tool of political expression for the lower classes.
Sayre, H. M. (2009). Discovering the Humanities. Pearson Publishers.
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