Fictional Primary Source – Calling All Composers (l’Opéra-Comique)

Albert Carré was the sole director of l’Opéra-Comique from 1898 to 1913, and again (this time co-directing with Émile and Vincent Isola) from 1919-1925. During his earlier stretch of time with l’Opéra-Comique, Carré made it clear that he wished to break from tradition by presenting operas that were more experimental and at risk of dispute. In the first half of the twentieth-century, a vast majority of works put on by l’Opéra-Comique were produced expressly for the institution, thanks to Carré.[1] Particularly in his return as director, however, Carré faced difficulty in mounting his preferred innovative works due to concerns regarding funding, and hesitation from his co-directors, the Isola brothers. Despite this difficulty, l’Opéra-Comique fared well following the first world war to the extent that the 1920 season was extended into the summer in order to accommodate the consistently large attendance. Below is the bulletin distributed by Albert Carré to French (especially Parisian) composers, urging them to contribute works to this extended season and beyond.


Janvier, 1920

To whom it may concern:

As you know, l’Opéra-Comique’s season will continue into the summer this year, due to the success of the current season. This will likely not come as too much of a surprise to you, as anyone familiar with my previous work with l’Opéra-Comique knows that I have never been one to remain slave to tradition. Which is why I am calling on you to prepare new works for the upcoming summer season, as well as future standard seasons. Why fall back on old classics when we have a wealth of creative genius in our very neighborhood? Do not worry about appealing to public taste; while it has been customary of l’Opéra-Comique to accommodate the audience’s desires in the past, we are living in an era of molding those desires into something entirely new. We have evolved from a time wherein people “go to what charms them,” according to Kerst, to one wherein people will see what they truly need to see.[2]

I know what will be said of this radical point-of-view: ‘it will never last, l’Opéra-Comique suffers enough already from a lack of subsidized funding, why make the situation worse by alienating the audience?’ Quite the contrary, the newer stories that are showing up more and more in the repertoire are realistic! l’Opéra-Comique will not lie to its audiences, telling tales of blissfully ignorant, embracing couples. No, l’Opéra-Comique offers its viewers an intimate perspective of the realities of the times. Perhaps this realism is too gloomy for some, but it is what the audience has come (and will continue) to expect. Those who long for the more traditional, simplistic stories can always attend l’Opéra, instead; the doors of the Palais Garnier are always open to you. The true face of Paris, however, is l’Opéra-Comique. This institution reflects the identity of Paris itself.[3]

Speaking on behalf of Émile and Vincent Isola, all three of us are thrilled by the success of our dear company. I say it is wasted if we don’t take advantage of the extra time in the season to produce fantastic new works.[4]

The days ahead are by no means simple. There is much work to do with regard to reshaping the identity of France as a nation. l’Opéra-Comique has the unique opportunity to facilitate this process. In accommodating the wishes of the audience, l’Opéra-Comique has always had the public’s best interests at heart. I put it to you that, these days, France’s identity is in the public’s best interest, and accommodation is no longer the best way to connect with today’s audiences. Let us create works that shape the new identity of France!

As far as funding is concerned, there is nothing to worry about. l’Opéra-Comique has always survived financial difficulties in the past, citing utilité publique.[5] Take the closure of six years ago, for example.[6] It will be no different in the coming years. As I mentioned, the new direction of l’Opéra-Comique will reshape the identity of France, and the government shall soon see how vital it is for the spirit of Paris.

Albert Carré, Administrator and Director, l’Opéra-Comique


[1] Stéphane Wolff, Un demi-siècle d’Opéra-comique (Paris, France: Éditions André Bonne, 1953)

Wolff’s book includes comprehensive lists of all the works put on at l’Opéra-Comique, as well as the personnel associated with the institution from 1900-1950.

[2] Jann Pasler, Composing the Citizen (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009), p. 676

Léon Kerst on the decision to open l’Opéra-Comique’s 1892 fall season with Manon: “people go to what charms them.”

[3] Roger Nichols, The Harlequin Years (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002) p. 83

[4] Darius Milhaud to Francis Poulenc, December 1923, Myriam Chimènes, Correspondance (Paris, France: Fayard, 1994)

In a letter to Poulenc, Milhaud writes about a scandalous production of his opera, La Brebis égarée, and hints at an upcoming production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Poulenc explains that Carré is anticipating the show, while the Isola brothers are very nervous because of the disastrous reception of La Brebis. Thus, while all three directors want what is best for their institution, there is evidently some conflict between the more conservative Isola brothers, and the very ambitious Carré. While this correspondence comes from three years after Carré’s bulletin, the same conflict was likely to have been in place since Carré joined the Isola brothers in 1919.

[5] Pasler, p. 75

[6] Jane Fulcher, The Composer as Intellectual (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005) p. 25

Pierre Gheusi, director of l’Opéra-Comique, convinced the fine arts undersecretary of the importance of theaters for public morale during the war. The theaters (having been closed in November 1914) were opened in early 1915.