In 1664 Louis XIV gave his first great fête at Versailles, a small hunting box built by his father and which the Roi Soleil was transforming into the astonishing château that would materially represent the political, economic, and artistic supremacy of France. Officially honoring Queen Marie-Thérèse and Queen Mother Anne d’Autriche, the entertainments were in fact dedicated to Louise de La Vallière, the king’s first maîtresse en titre.
Foremost among those who took part in the spectacle was the young warrior king himself, clad in jewel-encrusted gold and silver armor as the chevalier Roger, who, at the bidding of the sorceress Alcine, arrives with his retinue to entertain the queens over the course of several days in Les Plaisirs de l’Île Enchantée.
In 1668 Le Grand Divertissement Royal de Versailles, the most extravagant of the king’s fêtes, celebrated the glory of Louis XIV after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The éclat of the brilliant and youthful court, entertained with fireworks, tournaments, dance, music, and theater, was heightened by collaborations between two of the greatest names in the dramatic arts: Lully and Molière.
Les plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (La Princesse d’Élide); George Dandin ou Le mari confondu (Le grand divertissemant royal de Versailles) (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2004) is a new edition of the keyboard score for the comédies-ballets La princesse d’Élide (1664) and George Dandin (1668); it is part of Olms’s Œuvres complètes of Lully.
Above, the official commemorative engraving of Festin du roi et des reines from 1664; below, excerpts from Lully’s score for La princesse d’Élide.
As one of the most powerful nonpolitical figures at Louis XIV’s court, Lully was far from immune to its culture of intrigue.
Henri Guichard, a perpetrator of various frauds and a rival at the court, hatched a plot to poison Lully in 1674, and approached a corrupt police officer, Sébastien Aubry, who had access to the Opéra and often saw Lully there. The unfolding of the plot, which involved a poisoned snuff box, had a strong element of farce as Aubry ineptly attempted to play both ends against the middle, jockeying for his own best interests while appearing to assist Guichard.
Eventually a mutual associate tipped off the composer, who formally accused Aubry of conspiracy to commit murder. Guichard exercised what influence he could, but Lully, as a close associate of the king himself, had the upper hand. In the end, the composer was able to delay the case until the only two dissenting judges finished their terms of duty.
This according to Jean-Baptiste Lully by Ralph Henry Forster Scott (London: Owen, 1973, pp. 76–83).
Today is Lully’s 380th birthday! Below, Boris Terral portrays the composer in Gérard Corbiau’s Le roi danse (2000).
Related article: Comedy versus opera
Le ballet de la nuit, a major ballet de cour, was organized by Louis Cauchon d’Hesselin and first performed in the Louvre’s Salle du Petit Bourbon in 1653. The event was notable for many reasons—not least, for the involvement of the young Louis XIV, who danced in five roles, including his most famous role as the Sun King, accompanied by chosen courtiers and professional dancers, singers, and acrobats.
Edited by Michael Burden and Jennifer Thorp, Ballet de la nuit: Rothschild B1.16.6 (Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2009) focuses on the exquisitely produced volume presented to d’Hesselin (who also performed in the work), which passed into the hands of the Rothschild family at Waddesdon Manor and is now in the ownership of the National Trust.
The book presents a full facsimile of the Waddesdon source along with the printed vers pour les personages, lists of performers, cues for special effects, the running order of the entrées, and essays by Burden, Thorp, Catherine Massip, and David Parrott that discuss cultural patronage at the Court of Louis XIV, the musical context, dances and dancers, and the costumes and scenography of this unique and extraordinary ballet. Also included is a modern edition of the surviving music prepared by Lionel Sawkins.
Above, an illustration from the book (click to enlarge); below, Lully’s overture.
Related article: Le Carrousel du Roi