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Opera and the Political Imaginary in Old Regime France$
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Olivia Bloechl

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226522753

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522890.001.0001

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Spectral Kingdoms: Poetics and Politics of Les Enfers

Spectral Kingdoms: Poetics and Politics of Les Enfers

(p.156) Chapter Five Spectral Kingdoms: Poetics and Politics of Les Enfers
Opera and the Political Imaginary in Old Regime France

Olivia Bloechl

University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses the conventional setting of the pagan underworld ("les enfers") in tragédies en musique and explores its poetics and political significance. It finds that French librettists represented the underworld as a quasi-absolutist space, in an “imaginative geography” comparable in some ways to the Orientalist imaginary described by Edward Said. Artists organized opera's underworlds in this way for both poetic and political reasons, as placing underworld action in a monarchical realm of the dead let them satisfy the aesthetic demand for verisimilitude, in the special French register of vraisemblance merveilleuse (marvelous plausibility). This poetic requirement also let artists explore a terrifying, biopolitical dimension of absolutist sovereignty, rooted in the sovereign’s legal authority over life and death.

Keywords:   absolutism, tragédie en musique, biopolitics, sovereignty, death, imaginative geography, verisimilitude, poetics, underworld, Hades, Edward Said

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