Here is something very special.
On 7 November, 1702, La Maupin (Julie d’Aubigny) appeared in a new opera in Paris: Tancrède, a tragédie lyrique by André Campra (with a libretto by Antoine Danchet). It was written especially for her vocal range - the first role for a contralto written in the French repertoire..
She played Clorinde, the legendary ‘Saracen’ princess - her first and only genuine Amazon role - and her dear friend Thévenard played the crusader Tancrède.
Now here is a brief glimpse of a recent full production of Tancrède from the Centre de musique baroque at Versailles. The production was staged in the jewel-like opera theatre at Versailles in May this year, with Isabelle Druet as Clorinde. Oh how I wish I’d been there.
The video includes a few interviews, but even if you don’t speak French you’ll get an idea of the role, the music, and of the staging of opera in La Maupin’s day.
Here’s the audio of my interview with Radio National about the research and writing process, and La Maupin’s life and impact.
It airs on Books and Arts Daily on 14 July, and on Books + on 13 July:
It’s the late seventeenth century and a young woman is trained in sword play at Versailles. She becomes a renowned opera singer in Paris, and in between fighting duels and taking a number of lovers – both men and women – she sets fire to a nunnery.
And here’s the twist: it’s all based on a real woman.
Writer Kelly Gardiner researched the life for a doctoral thesis, and has written a novel –Goddess – in which the hero makes a sort of confession on her deathbed, to a rather purse-lipped priest. It’s a defiant and argumentative version of her life.
Still thinking and writing about La Maupin.
This is the abstract for my paper at the interdisciplinary Gender & Love conference in September 2014.
Julie d’Aubigny (La Maupin) was a French swordswoman and opera singer – a superstar of the seventeenth century, celebrated as much for her crossdressing, her duels and her affairs with famous men and beautiful women as for her prodigious talents. She has been portrayed in fiction, on stage and screen, and transformed into an icon of Romanticism in one of the world’s most banned books, ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin’.
But how might she have seen herself? How would others have conceived of her? And how can a twenty-first century fictional representation of the woman and her voice fit into an ongoing cultural narrative about gender and love?
In writing the historical novel ‘Goddess’, a new version of La Maupin’s life, I not only imagined the woman and the world in which she lived, but also had to reach an understanding about the ways in which La Maupin and women like her were perceived and portrayed in literature, history, theatre and in life. In an era before queer, before Freud, before feminism, before notions of identity, how did a few transgressive women come to be celebrated, when others were punished? How did this acclaimed stage performer perform gender and engage with love off stage? And how does a fictional version perform gender on the page?
This paper will examine a literary and historical tradition stretching from the Amazons and Sappho through to cross-dressing ‘military maids’ and picaras, through the works of writers from ancient Greece to the playwrights of Paris and London – to the moment in 1690 when Julie d’Aubigny made her debut with the Paris Opéra.
It will examine in particular narratives of love between women in fiction and in history writing, and the impact of that lineage on ‘Goddess’, a twenty-first century interpretation of one remarkable woman.
(I’ll publish the paper here and elsewhere when it’s done.)