Two Hunters, a Milkmaid and the French ‘Revolutionary’ Canon

Author / Artist: 
Publication Date: 
September, 2018

Large-scale programming studies of French Revolutionary theatre confirm that the most frequently staged opera of the 1790s was not one of the politically charged, compositionally progressive works that have come to define the era for posterity, but rather a pastoral comedy from mid-century: Les deux chasseurs et la laitière (1763), with a score by Egidio Duni to a libretto by Louis Anseaume. This article draws upon both musical and archival evidence to establish an extended performance history of Les deux chasseurs, and a more nuanced explanation for its enduring hold on the French lyric stage. I consider the pragmatic, legal and aesthetic factors contributing to the comedy's widespread adaptability, including its cosmopolitan musical idiom, scenographic simplicity and ready familiarity amongst consumers of printed music. More broadly, I address the advantages and limitations of corpus-based analysis with respect to delineating the operatic canon. In late eighteenth-century Paris, observers were already beginning to identify a chasm between their theatre-going experiences and the reactions of critics: Was a true piece of ‘Revolutionary’ theatre one that was heralded as emblematic of its time, or one, like Les deux chasseurs, that was so frequently seen that it hardly elicited a mention in the printed record?