Posted by: Frederick Cornwell Sanders | 2013/10/15

“October 15, 1581” by Rick Sanders

Engraving of the second scene of the Ballet Co...

Engraving of the second scene of the Ballet Comique de la Reine, staged in Paris in 1581 for the French court. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1581, a commission by Catherine De Medici, regent of France, the first French ballet, “Ballet Comique de la Reine,” is formally staged in Paris.

Catherine, Italian by birth, is already familiar to the dance form.

From Wikipedia we read:

Catherine gradually introduced changes to the traditional entertainments: for example, she increased the prominence of dance in the shows that climaxed each series of entertainments. A distinctive new art form, the ballet de cour, emerged from these creative advances. Owing to its synthesis of dance, music, verse, and setting, the production of the Ballet Comique de la Reine in 1581 is regarded by scholars as the first authentic ballet.

The Ballet Comique de la Reine (at the time spelled Balet comique de la Royne) was a court entertainment, now considered to be the first ballet de cour. It was staged on 15 October 1581 for the court of Catherine de’ Medici in the Great Hall of the Petit-Bourbon in Paris. It was produced and choreographed by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx and danced by Queen Louise and the women of the court. This ballet was also known for its long length of over five hours and its elaborate and scattered stage design. It had elaborate costumes and centered around the myth of the Greek goddess Circe.

Nicolas Filleul de La Chesnaye, the King’s almoner, wrote the text, sets and costumes were designed by Jacques Patin. The music was provided by Jacques Salmon, maitre de la musique de la chambre de Roi, and a certain “Sieur de Beaulieu.” This composer was identified as “Lambert de Beaulieu” by Fétis‘ in his Biographie universelle, following a probable error in a letter by Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor, but is today identified with the bass singer Girard de Beaulieu who with his wife, the Italian soprano Violante Doria themselves sung the airs to Circé.

Ballet’s French character later seeps into many operas. As French productions of operas often had ballets inserted into them to help their success in the Gallic marketplace of the arts, ballet’s formative school is French.

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