Regionalist themes in 'Breton' Operas, 1850-1954: Four case studies

Millar, Jennifer Janice (2010). Regionalist themes in 'Breton' Operas, 1850-1954: Four case studies. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

This thesis aims to challenge the suggestion that couleur locale, in nineteenth-century French operas which incorporated Breton themes, was merely a convenient vehicle for spectacle. It seeks to demonstrate that the deployment of regional symbolism served a variety of complex personal, psychological and socio-political needs and was complicit in the establishment of new regional and national musical identities. Four case studies are at the heart of the enquiry: Édouard Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys (1888), Joseph-Guy Ropartz's Le Pays (1912) and Sylvio Lazzari's La Lepreuse (1912) and La Tour de feu (1928). Two additional works, Giacomo Meyerbeer's Le Pardon de Ploermel (1859) and Paul Le Flem's Magicienne de la mer (1954) frame the main study and define it aesthetically and chronologically. These works were all selected to facilitate the comparison of specific regionalist responses by both non-Breton and native Breton composers. The evaluation of the ways in which regional symbols and themes were deployed in those Breton operas refers to current identity theories and makes extensive use of relevant iconography. Whilst the musical scores are central to the enquiry, close reference is equally made to the literary sources which informed the libretti of the operas. The links between these sources, the significant folklore of the region and the regionally-canonical works of Hersart de la Villemarqué, Émile Souvestre and Anatole Le Braz are assiduously traced. The case studies reveal hitherto undetected or unacknowledged libretti sources; however the interrogation of the operas by Sylvio Lazzari also records previously-undiscovered musical borrowings which have significance for the regional symbolism which his works project. Finally, the conclusion sets the evidence from the case studies in the context of the role of Breton symbolism in the active preservation or invention of a unique regional heritage and, paradoxically, in the affirmation of an overarching national identity. It demonstrates conclusively that operas which consciously deployed Breton couleur locale thereby achieved distinct artistic and psychological goals and continued to evolve in response to their shifting socio-political contexts.

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