- Armide, the Huguenots, and The Hague
In the fall of 1701, a new French-language opera company in The Hague opened with a production of Jean-Baptiste Lully and Philippe Quinault's Armide (1686), a choice that can now be confirmed by a libretto (fig. 1).1 Yet the company's choice of Armide was not self-evident, nor did their production follow that of Paris to the letter. Considering why and how this company came to perform Armide fifteen years after it first had appeared in Paris also raises questions about the stakes of operatic revival more generally. For revival is a transformative process: new productions of old operas looked, sounded, and meant differently to the diverse audiences who attended them in places far removed from the origin point, both geographically and temporally. Most significantly, the production in The Hague included a new prologue. At the heart of this essay, then, is a reconsideration of the relationship between the prologue to Armide and the five acts of the opera proper. Examining the choices made in The Hague in 1701 can lead to a new understanding of Armide's premiere as well.
Thematically, Armide appealed to audiences whose encounters with the rest of the globe were becoming ever more frequent and sustained around the turn of the eighteenth century. The otherness of the sorceress Armide, her Oriental origins, have inspired modern scholars to explore the opera as a staging of the fundamental struggle between East and West, Islam and Christianity, or as registering an ambivalence toward French colonialism.2 One might say that the opera's engagement with the East made it a logical text for an opera company such as that of The Hague, which itself capitalized on cosmopolitanism and border crossing. After all, the company started as a cross-confessional, multiregional corporation involving a German Lutheran (Gerhard Schott); Schott's agent in The Hague, the Huguenot refugee Jean-Jacques Quesnot de la Chenée; and a French Catholic couple (Catherine Dudard and Louis Deseschaliers). Their regular audience included diplomats, rulers, and merchants from across Europe, who shared the goal of reaping the world's wealth.
Armide made practical sense, for the company reused materials owned by Schott that had been prepared for a performance in Kiel. It was also a sensible choice for an inaugural production, because of the opera's renown. By 1701 it was [End Page 131]
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acclaimed as perhaps the finest of all Lully's operas and had already enjoyed numerous performances in Paris and abroad.3 In fact, the chance to perform the famous title role served the company in The Hague as a lure for aspiring divas. According to Quesnot, a certain Mademoiselle Diard—known to be a fine singing actress—had been promised the role by Deseschaliers in order to [End Page 132] convince her to leave Paris. Once she arrived, however, she discovered that she had been tricked. The coveted star turn had already been claimed by a German woman, said to be the mistress of Gerhard Schott.4
Yet, considering a prevailing mode of modern historiography, Armide might seem controversial for The Hague. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Quinault's take on Tasso has been related to the struggle between Louis XIV and the "heresy" of Protestantism, because of the presence in the opera's prologue of what appears to be a reference to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.5 The Edict of Fontainebleau, signed by Louis XIV on October 17, 1685 (just about four months before Armide premiered in Paris), rescinded the "perpetual" Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed French Protestants (known familiarly as Huguenots) the right to worship since 1598—so long as it should please the king to enforce that right. While it had ended the worst of the French Wars of Religion for a time, no permanent resolution to confessional differences was ever achieved. By the time Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, he appears to have been convinced that his conversion campaigns of...