The Jardin des Femmes as Scenic Convention in French Opera and Ballet
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Much scholarship on French grand opera has understandably focused on the monumentality of the genre--its sweeping historical panoramas, public spectacles, and large onstage chorus. This focus is reinforced, for example, by Anselm Gerhard, who associates the chorus with the Parisian crowd in its diversity, autonomy, and even violence, and by Marian Smith, who contrasts grand opera's magnificent urban and indoor settings with the bucolic countryside locales of ballet-pantomime. Yet this emphasis on the "grandness" of grand opera has obscured the dramaturgical significance of private gardens within French opera of the July Monarchy era. While Queen Marguerite's garden in Act II of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots (1836) has long been acknowledged as a forbidden, feminine realm, the prevalence of the jardin des femmes as a scenic convention in nineteenth-century French opera remains unexplored. Using the canonic example of Les Huguenots as a starting point, this study examines additional garden scenes from Donizetti's La Favorite (1840) and Halévy's La Reine de Chypre (1841) to demonstrate the typical use of the garden as a scenic frame for clandestine encounters, sexual transgression, and homosocial intimacy. Two further case studies, Auber's Le Cheval de Bronze (1835) and Adam's Giselle (1841), illustrate the presence of the jardin des femmes convention in opéra-comique and ballet-pantomime, respectively, thus testifying to a shared scenic vocabulary among multiple Parisian music theater genres of the 1830s and '40s. My principal argument is that these garden settings are represented as feminine spaces - and the women of these scenes as ecomorphic beings - through a complex of textual, visual, and musical cues. Drawing on feminist critiques of the metaphoric transcoding of woman, space, and landscape, I posit that certain repeated musico-visual images encourage a mode of looking and listening that conflates admiration of idyllic garden scenery with admiration of the female body. The collusion of gender, sexuality, and nature has been analyzed by Allanbrook, Hunter, and DeNora in Mozart's buffa operas and by Senici in nineteenth-century Italian opera, but this study is the first to argue a similar case for nineteenth-century French opera and ballet.