Houses & Companies | Guerre des Bouffons | Classical Era | Opera
Opposing tastes in opera have often provoked minor wars. One of them was the guerre des bouffons, which took place in Paris between 1752 and 1754 and ranged the supporters of French serious opera against the advocates of Italian opera buffa. On the French side were King Louis, his influential mistress Madame de Pompadour, his court and the aristocracy. Louis’ Polish queen, Mary, the philosopher Denis Diderot and other French intellectuals and connoisseurs of opera were ranged against them on the ‘Italian’ side.
Within the opera houses, battle lines were drawn by the ‘French’ supporters who gathered around the king’s box, and the ‘Italians’ who were deployed before the queen’s. The confrontation was originally sparked off in 1752 when the intermezzo La serva padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–36) was performed in Paris by Italian comic actors, or bouffons. Ultimately, though, there was no clear victory for either side. French serious opera appeared to have won, but before long, French musicians began to play music in the Italian buffa style. This prompted the introduction of the comédie mêlée d’ariettes, a kind of comic miscellany, which took its cue more from the Italian than the French side of the argument.
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