Wednesday 13 August 2014

The Premiere of Zaïre

As I book tickets for a pre-Christmas theatre jaunt later this year, I find myself in a theatrical frame of mind which is highly appropriate given that today marks the anniversary of a dramatic premiere. We head over the sea today to Paris and the first performance of Voltaire's tragedy, Zaïre, a famed text in French theatre.

By summer 1732, Voltaire was feeling somewhat disenchanted. His previous work, Eriphyle, had not set the world of French theatre alight and audiences and critics asked why Voltaire did not feature love stories more prominently in his plays, as they all fancied a little romantic drama to pass the time. In response, Voltaire worked feverishly on Zaïre  completing the five act tragedy in verse in under a month and offering it as his answer to the critics.


A story of religious intolerance and doomed love, Zaire was to receive its premiere on 13th August 1732 by the Comédie Française at the Théâtre de la Rue des Fossés Saint-Germain. The case consisted of actors well-known in French theatre and tickets were in high demand as the audiences of Paris waited to see how Voltaire would respond to the relative failure of Eriphyle.

In fact, as the crowds filed out onto the Rue des Fossés Saint-Germain, the responses were somewhat muted. There were some criticisms of thematic elements and one or two of the cast but Voltaire would not be defeated and revised the work until it was agreed by all concerned that the play was a triumph. Due to demand it ran for 31 performances and Voltaire took the company to Versailles, where Zaïre was performed for the court.

Following its European success, Zaïre was translated into English and performed in London in 1737; to this day it remains a popular piece and has inspired multiple operas and other dramatic works.


Annette said...

Wonderful old man Voltaire, cut to the quick by French critics (younger most often then the old fellow) Voltaire-such a writer of satire on French manners and indiscretions that he later found upsetting. He certainly gave a good kick to J Rousseau the (sort of) Father of the French Revolution-it was one thing to help breed discontent in the French poor. But to create his own batch of children with Theresa, to whom he was not married to-was the blow in the kick in the --- by Voltaire. atk

Catherine Curzon said...

He's certainly one of my favourites!