Opera: The Meeting Place of the Rich

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Opera is neither a school nor a portrait of manners, but it can be regarded as a mirror given that it is the place where these are reflected.

Etienne de Jouy,
L'Hermite de la Guiane
1816

If we take the issue on a large scale, the structure of society – monarchy, aristocracy, meritocracy, democracy – produces our behavioral patterns that make up everyday life. These structures are directly related to the behavioral patterns we exhibit while listening to music; The effect of music on us is like our aesthetic perception.

Thus, the act of commenting on other audience members during a performance in a society structured with the label of the palace derives from the theme of dignity. It is an inevitable politeness that the bourgeoisie does not disturb other spectators.

It would not be wrong to use the expression 'social duty' for opera in the middle quarter of the 18th century. Arriving at the opera on time in 1750 was considered unfashionable. The nobles preferred to walk around the garden of the opera and chat with each other until it got dark.

By the time the first act of the opera was over, most of them would have just been replaced. Only men were allowed in the parterre section, Princes and dukes chatted in their first-ranked lodges.

Monastery monks, who were fond of worldly pleasures, chatted with jewel-filled women on the second floor, and inappropriate shouts and warnings were heard from the parter if the dose of sincerity was too low. He would have preferred the dark third balcony with Valentines.

'..I saw happy brunettes, blondes and a priest on the second floor. Tired from traveling, I returned to the party. Two hundred soldiers were chatting about the war..'

Chansonnier Clerambault
Century

Forty soldiers with guns full of gunpowder were on duty, roaming every floor and corridor. Strange as it may sound, in the 18th century opera was controlled by the military.

In the old regime, going to the opera was more of a social activity than an aesthetic experience. For 18th-century audiences, music was considered the adornment of a grand spectacle in which they played the leading role.

Like the right to carry a sword, which was granted only to the nobility, going to the opera in the old regime was nothing more than a show of identity and label. In this way, privileges came to the fore among the people divided into classes.

For the Parisian aristocracy, the Opera, with its three great royal operas, was the most privileged way to have a good time.

Opera, which was known as the 'Royal Music Academy' in the middle of the century, has now turned into a noble entertainment and handled the subjects that the king would enjoy. The Academy was founded in 1669 by King Louis XIV.

King not only brought the academy to life, but also took part in the selection of personnel and works.

Until the end of the 18th century, artist contracts, annual budgets, and concert invitations were shaped in the bureaucratic labyrinths of the Palace of Versailles.

By the middle of the 18th century, the glittering decoration of the opera, dulled by more than 80 years of candle-lit performances, was still described with admiration by the audience of the period.

Green and gold tones were dominant in the building. The stage curtain was green and gold with fringes. The walls were white and the borders were green.

The lodges were covered with green satin fabric embroidered with gold flowers. The decoration was handled in great detail, each section was arranged according to the class it was hosting.

The ceilings of the first-class lodges were painted with mythological figures. When it came down to the second class, the turquoise painted ceiling clearly showed the separation between the classes. The ceiling of the opera was covered with magnificent allegorical paintings.

Although the hall was notorious for its darkness, oil lamps and candles allowed the audience to see each other from one end to the other.

Candles were constantly lit inside and outside the lodges. Although the oil lamps and candles burning on the panel in front of the stage provided sufficient light to the performers, they filled the front of the hall with an intolerable smell and smoke.

One of the complaints about this situation belonged to Marie Antoinette.

Even though the queen wrote a letter to the opera management expressing her complaint, the lighting technique available was the best of the time.

'No matter how badly the singer performed and how boring the opera was, it was a public meeting'

Voltaire

Two crystal chandeliers filled with candles were suspended from the ceiling as part of a system controlled by pulleys. When the performance started, the chandeliers were pulled up and the audience was cleared.

The smoke of the candles burning during the entire performance sometimes made the stage invisible for the front rows / balcony.

Like most early 18th-century Paris Operas, the Royal Palace Opera was a rectangle with rounded corners.

The side walls of the hall were filled with lodges consisting of three different floors. The audience was looking at each other's faces. They had to rotate their chairs to return to the stage.

Unlike other European halls, the partitions separating the chambers did not face towards the stage, but towards the middle of the hall. This was a strange obstacle to seeing the stage. An architect in 1760You have to stand up to see the stage. It's like it was deliberately made to block our view!' summed up the situation.

When you turn your face to the stage, the first floor right front box belonged to the king, and the one directly opposite the queen. Apart from these two, there were twenty-eight other first-class lodges. Some of them were on the second and third floors. The last two floors also had open balcony seating areas.

The size of the lodges varied, accommodating from four to twelve spectators. Rental periods could be adjusted according to the demand of the audience.

The general trend in the mid-18th century was to rent for two to three years. It was the most likely option for people who knew each other to use it alternately by dividing the cost.

On certain nights in the 1750s, the Duchess of Biron used to perform in box 7 right next to the King, while the Duke of Luxembourg used the same box on different nights.

In 1712, the Duke of Ventadour and Guzenet, who came from a noble family, decorated the lodge they rented as they wished, brought their own furniture inside and changed the lock.

The six most prestigious lodges in the hall were those on the stage. Although they were the most expensive lodges, it was almost impossible to see the stage because of the shining lights of the candlesticks that illuminated the stage.

Prince descendants, foreign diplomats, and the king's inner circle lived here. In the 1750-51 season, Louis XV's heir (Duke of Choiseul), his defense minister, and the Duke of d'Aumont were frequently seen in these lodges.

The important thing here was not to be able to watch the opera, but to show oneself. To go to the opera in the middle of the 18th century was to watch the social power shown.

While 1749 of the members of the 1757-year-old lodge between 135-4 were ordinary citizens and 3 were wealthy Parisian bourgeois, all remaining memberships belonged to aristocrats.

The prestige that these first-class lodges offered their tenants was not found in the higher, darker, and cheaper second- and third-floor lodges.

These floors were where priests and lower-ranking nobility pursued representation by weight, rented per representation rather than annually.

It was obvious that those who enjoyed the opera were the spectators holding these lodges rather than the crowded party. Parter would sometimes receive close to a thousand spectators.

The kicked attack he suffered as a result of Rousseau's criticism of French Music also took place in the parterre.

Parter was a section where the public sang, danced and fought during the performance. It was known that those who came to the performance with their dogs took off their collars and released their animals.

In order to prevent this chaos, a barrier at shoulder height would separate the orchestra and the parter.

At the beginning of the century, composers and poets used to watch their works from the parter. The police, who could not distinguish the whistles of the rival artists during the performance, tried to ensure order by placing all of them on the balcony at the back of the hall with the decision taken.

Paradise On the third floor balcony, which is named after him, the audience would sit on benches nailed to the floor and watch the performance. The disadvantage of this part, which remained in the dark, was that it was next to the toilets.

'The opera is a magical journey. It is the land of change; and there one sees the strangest things..'

Charles Dufresny

On certain nights in the 1750s, the Duchess of Biron used to perform in box 7 right next to the King, while the Duke of Luxembourg used the same box on different nights.

In 1712, the Duke of Ventadour and Guzenet, who came from a noble family, decorated the lodge they rented as they wished, brought their own furniture inside and changed the lock.

The six most prestigious lodges in the hall were those on the stage. Although they were the most expensive lodges, it was almost impossible to see the stage because of the shining lights of the candlesticks that illuminated the stage.

Prince descendants, foreign diplomats, and the king's inner circle lived here. In the 1750-51 season, Louis XV's heir (Duke of Choiseul), his defense minister, and the Duke of d'Aumont were frequently seen in these lodges.

The important thing here was not to be able to watch the opera, but to show oneself. To go to the opera in the middle of the 18th century was to watch the social power shown.

While 1749 of the members of the 1757-year-old lodge between 135-4 were ordinary citizens and 3 were wealthy Parisian bourgeois, all remaining memberships belonged to aristocrats.

The prestige that these first-class lodges offered their tenants was not found in the higher, darker, and cheaper second- and third-floor lodges.

These floors were where priests and lower-ranking nobility pursued representation by weight, rented per representation rather than annually.

It was obvious that those who enjoyed the opera were the spectators holding these lodges rather than the crowded party. Parter would sometimes receive close to a thousand spectators.

The kicked attack he suffered as a result of Rousseau's criticism of French Music also took place in the parterre.

Parter was a section where the public sang, danced and fought during the performance. It was known that those who came to the performance with their dogs took off their collars and released their animals.

In order to prevent this chaos, a barrier at shoulder height would separate the orchestra and the parter.

At the beginning of the century, composers and poets used to watch their works from the parter. The police, who could not distinguish the whistles of the rival artists during the performance, tried to ensure order by placing all of them on the balcony at the back of the hall with the decision taken.

Paradise On the third floor balcony, which is named after him, the audience would sit on benches nailed to the floor and watch the performance. The disadvantage of this part, which remained in the dark, was that it was next to the toilets.

Although Louis the 14th forbade entry to the opera without paying, the 15th and 16th Louis brought some privileges.

In 1750, the king's privileged entry list found 200 people, and the opera management rebelled against this situation. This privileged entry list also includes names such as Voltaire and Turgot.

One of the greatest pleasures of the audience was watching the changes in the decor and the machines and pulley systems that carry the artists according to their roles.

While it was seen as part of the show during the stage director's whistle for this change, it would turn into a disturbing detail in the future.

François Antoine de Chevrier describes one of these scene changes:

With the renewed scene, Parter suddenly forgot the three hours of boredom they had been through.

Of course, this technology was not very reliable. During a performance, the tenor fell to the ground on a two-wheeled chariot that was blown through the air.

Witnessing this situation, La Fontaine wrote a humorous stanza:

Even the most beautiful carriage can fall
Or a god gets stuck in the ropes and begs for help,
Part of the forest the sea falls,
Or half of Heaven ends in Hell!

Kaynak

H. Johnson, James: Listening in Paris – A Cultural History, University of California Press, 1960

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