The intersection of politics and spectacle has a long tradition in French history, from Louis XIV's Versailles to the streets of revolutionary Paris. As a result, Chateaubriand's criticism of the coronation of Charles X in May 1825 as theatrical may at first seem unremarkable. His description of the occasion as a dramatic performance rather than a real event, however, deserves closer examination. In line with Chateaubriand, this article suggests that the anachronistic final Bourbon coronation can best be understood, at the most literal level, as an opera, with music, resplendent costumes, dashes of orientalism (the envoy for the Bey of Tunis provoked much interest), hired claqueurs, and the whole of Rheims turned into a stage set. Conversely, the coronation's reliance on operatic props and aesthetics can shed light on the dramatic crisis that led to the appearance of grand opééra. The largest piece written to celebrate the coronation, the multianchored Pharamond, was performed at the Paris Opééra, but failed to command either critical or popular acclaim, in contrast with Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims at the Thééââtre Italien. Yet Pharamond's troubled negotiation between the demands of historical drama and celebratory Pièèce de circonstance mirrors the logic that underpinned the planning of the coronation: a desire to invoke the authority of French history while bypassing unresolved memories of the Revolution and the Empire. Ultimately, the failure of Pharamond and its selective appropriation of history offer a productive mode for understanding the connections between opera, ceremonial language, and historical precedent, as well as those between musical works and large-scale political events.
- ©© Regents of the University of California