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Foreign Voices, Performing Frenchness

Foreign Voices, Performing Frenchness

Jenny Colon and the “French Plays” in London

(p.179) Chapter 9 Foreign Voices, Performing Frenchness
London Voices, 1820-1840
Kimberly White
University of Chicago Press

This essay examines different dimensions of the French voice manifested through the performance and reception of French vaudeville in London. Vaudeville contributed in important ways to theatrical life in London by circulating music from the Parisian stage and shaping the English public’s perception of their neighbors to the south. The genre was imported by troupes of actors and singers from the Parisian boulevard theaters in a regular series called the “French Plays.” Vaudeville was considered rather light, popular entertainment. However, performed in the original language, it immersed its elite audience completely in foreign sounds, and offered the public at once an occasion to display their mastery of French culture and a pedagogical opportunity to practice their French voice. The press reception of the Parisian vaudeville star, Jenny Colon (1808-1842), who visited London in 1829 and 1834, clarifies how certain aspects of her vocal aesthetic and performance style signified authentic “Frenchness.” The essay suggests that vaudeville, with its wide variety of musical citations from French opera, helped to consolidate a network of musical references within the corpus of adaptations of French works on the British stage.

Keywords:   vaudeville, Jenny Colon, French plays, popular, voice, singers, language, Paris, London

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