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Opera Goes to the Bastille

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"Mlle. de Launai Romance chantée par Mlle. Regnault ," by Sophie Gail. Paris: Gaveau, ca. 1813.

The following is a guest post from Senior Cataloging Specialist Sharon McKinley.

Ah, Bastille Day! It’s a holiday that has such a nice, dramatic ring to it.  It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. And for some reason, über-French though it may be, we also enjoy it here in the New World. There’s something about the stirring call to freedom and the birth of the French Republic that captures our fancy. The Library’s Jefferson Building dome, built more than a century later,immortalizes the concept as well. After all, France gave us Emancipation!

And of course we have just the sheet music to go with a dramatic holiday like this one. Mlle de Launay à la Bastille (1813) is a one-act opera by Sophie Gail (Aug. 28, 1771-July 24, 1819), a woman highly accomplished in several areas of music. Famed as a singer and accompanist, Gail made at least 3 performing tours of Europe. She also wrote many songs and romances, plus several short operas which met with success in productions by the Opéra-Comique at the Théâtre Feydeau. Our excerpt, “Ma liberte, ma liberte,” is a rare example of Gail’s work.

The title itself promises excitement, and the true story of Mlle de Launay is operatic indeed. The subject of Gail’s opéra-comique spent two years in the Bastille (1718-1720) after being implicated in a plot against Philippe II, Duke of Orleans.  She spent her time wisely, having love entanglements with fellow prisoners and jailers alike. Mme. Our Heroine later wrote a tell-all memoir under her married name, Madame de Staal.

This should keep you entertained this Bastille Day, and if you’ve ever wondered how writers come up with opera plots, now you can rest assured that reality is often much more entertaining than fiction!






  1. Je l’ai trouve tres interessant.

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