Not Listening in Paris: Critical and Fictional Lapses of Attention at the Opera

Cormac Newark

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Abstract

    James Johnson’s influential book "Listening in Paris" (1995) plots a trajectory of increasing aural attentiveness to, and consequent silence at, musical performance. This chapter explores the opposite phenomenon: the difficulty in listening experienced by a whole range of spectators at the Opéra throughout the nineteenth century. Some of these are fictional, for many of the clearest pictures of spectators who for one reason or another have become disengaged from the music are to be found in the numerous novels that make use of that familiar French literary tradition, the 'soirée à l’Opéra'. Balzac, Dumas, Sand, Flaubert and Maupassant all provide good examples of characters whose attention to the music is intermittent at best, and from their accounts of opera-going can be deduced not only historically specific patterns of reception, but also evidence of contemporary ways of thinking about the representation of music in writing. Further such evidence is available in abundance in the (often self-consciously literary) reviews of journalists, specialist and non-, covering performances at the Opéra for a range of Paris dailies and periodicals. Surprisingly, some of this testifies to precisely the same lack of engagement, distraction even developing, in some areas of the press, into a critical trope. The relationship between fictional and real reception is here examined for what it can tell us about the respective layers of social commentary represented; in particular, about how the former may have been modelled on, but also illuminates, the latter.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationWords and Notes in the Long Nineteenth Century
    EditorsPhyllis Weliver, Katharine Ellis
    Place of PublicationWoodbridge
    PublisherBoydell and Brewer Publishers
    Pages35-53
    ISBN (Print)9781843838111
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2013

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  • Cite this

    Newark, C. (2013). Not Listening in Paris: Critical and Fictional Lapses of Attention at the Opera. In P. Weliver, & K. Ellis (Eds.), Words and Notes in the Long Nineteenth Century (pp. 35-53). Boydell and Brewer Publishers.