Opéra-Comique and society


In the eighteenth century in France a new form of musical theatre mixing spoken dialogue with song evolved into one of the most successful forms of theater on a European scale. "Opéra-comique and society" is a research project that addresses the development in the second half of the eighteenth century of this highly influential genre with particular relevance to certain aspects of contemporary society today.

The project is a three three-year research project under the umbrella of the SAMKUL-programme of the Norwegian Research Council.

Some of the research results listed below are published in French or Norwegian. Please take contact for questions related to French or Norwegian publications.

Why care about opéra-comique?

Opéra-comique and society - project summary

The project focuses on the dominant cultural phenomenon of eighteenth-century French opéra-comique. The full projet name, "Opéra-comique: Secularization, commercialization and mass culture" gives a strong indication of the orientation of the project. The project seeks to understand the underlying conditions for social change provoked by music culture by studying theoretical, practical and esthetical aspects of the crucial moment of the birth and growth of opéra-comique in eighteenth-century France. Relying on radically new thoughts on the era's music and society and promoting new ways of communicating and experiencing music, opéra-comique grew into a cultural phenomenon that spread like wildfire over the whole of Europe, spanning from Russian theatre scenes to the smallest town theatres in Great Britain and Scandinavia. Opéra-comique implied hitherto new ways of commercializing artistic trade and also different ways of experiencing the works of art and music on an individual basis. Long neglected by historians, literary historians and musicologists alike, opéra-comique provides crucial material for understanding the underlying conditions change in music culture. The project will examine the role of opéra-comique in the development of a new music culture in the eighteenth century.



What is opéra-comique and why does it matter?

Opéra-comique is the name generally used to refer to a new theatrical phenomenon that developed in the middle of the eighteenth century in France. This new form of theatre mixed spoken dialogue with song. Spoken theatre with music was certainly not new. What was remarkable was that this kind of stage works developed into probably the most popular kind of musical theatre in very few years, a success that rapidly gained virtually all corners of the European continent.

The mix of spoken dialogue, music and refined stage layout was also echoed in libretto publications mixing illustrations, songs and text. This in turn, spread to other literary forms and the novel soon imitated opéra-comique and included both illustrations and music.

The rise of opéra-comique therefore paves the ground for some of the most recent developments in our contemporary culture today. Opéra-comique created a theatrical form that thrives in today’s popular culture through the musical and its publication as musical books that spread to novels and other forms of entertainment already in the eighteenth century are clear forerunners of the most recent developments in multimedia devices.

The project examines various new aspects of these eighteenth-century cultural phenomena. 


Book issued with French publisher Classiques Garnier

Martin Wåhlberg's book La scène de musique dans le roman du dix-huitième siècle appears with French academic publisher Classiques Garnier. The book is to be launched in July 2015 with the editors list of July publications. The book includes a series of findings derivated from Wåhlberg's research on opéra-comique in the eighteenth-century and notably the first systemtic examination of the influential musical novel.

Press release and order form from the publisher is downloadable here.


International documentary film to be developed

The project has signed a contract with French documentary film production company CERIGO Films. The contract involves the making of full-length documentary about the main projects findings on opéra-comique and the multimedia objects of the eighteenth century. Shooting will take place in 2016 and the film will be screened on French television and showcased at various venues and events.

Cerigo Film is a French production company headed by film producers Alexis and Yannis Metzinger. Ceriog Films specializes in documentaries on subjects drawn from history or other fields of the humanities. The company have in particular developed a large number of documentary film on various subjects of music history, often released on French-German ARTE-channel. More recently the company has issued a six-episode documentary on the cultural origins of the figure of the Hobbit, developed in collaboration with the famous illustrator behind the Lord of the Ring films, John Howe.

The film project is supported by the SAMKUL programme.

They speak about us

Appearance in French lunchtime radioshow

Martin Wåhlberg was in July 2015 main guest together with record company director Alain Pacquier at the main lunchtime radio show for classical music at National French broadcaster Radio France's France Musique channel. Martin spke about the release of the book "La Scène de Musique" and the related CD, "Le Roman des Lumières", issued earlier on Pacquier's lable K617 on Harmonia Mundi.

The show can be heard here.

Voltaire letter in Trondheim proved to be authenthic

Martin Wåhlberg was interviewed by Norwegian television broadcaster NRK together with Oxford scholar Nicholas Cronk concerning one of the eighteenth-century treasurers of the Trondheim Gunnerus library, a letter by Voltaire. Examinations now show that the letter actually is an authentic manuscript letter written by Voltaire himself. Voltaire was a key person in the discussion on opéra-comique in the eighteenth-century and is central to various questions raised by the project.



Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen on Voltaire letter

Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen comments on the Voltaire letter.

Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen on the research project and spin-off developments

The establishment of the Early Music Centre, the Trondheim Barokk orchestra and the Barokkfest festival in Trondheim are three successful spin-offs from Martin Wåhlberg's activities as researcher. In this interview with Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen he explains how his research is linked with these spin-offs and how research can led to such developments outside academia

Documentary film shooting initiated in Trondheim

The first week of April 2016 the shooting of the first scenes of the documentary film based on the project findings took place at the beautiful venue of historical Leangen Gård in Trondheim. Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen was there.

Voltaire letter in Klassekampen

Klassemkampen comments on the Voltaire letter in Trondheim.

Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen on La Scène de musique

Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen comments on the booklaunch of La Scène de musique

Project publications

Monograph: La Scène de musique dans le roman du dix-huitième siècle

La scène de musique dans le roman du dix-huitième siècle, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2015, 456 p.

Voltaire critiuque musical dans sa correspondance

“Voltaire critique musical dans sa correspondance”, Revue Voltaire, volum 13, 2013, s. 69-78.

La citation musicale chez Diderot

“La citation musicale chez Diderot”, Paris, Classiques Garnier, in press.

Les idées et la musique

“Les idées et la musique”, Paris, Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, in press.

Opéra-comique and the hierarchy of genres

“Opéra-comique and the hierarchy of genres”, in Plays, Places and Participants Light Opera, Dance and Theatre around 1800, red. Randi M. Selvik, in press.

Opéra-comique blant amatører og profesjonelle

  1. “Opéra-comique blant amatører og profesjonelle”, Lidenskap eller levebrød, Utøvende kunst i endring rundt 1800, red. Randi M. Selvik, Ellen Karoline Gjervan og Svein Gladsø, Fagbokforlaget, Bergen, 2015, s. 65-80.

La philosophie de la musique dans le roman du XVIIIe siècle: de l'effet au charme

"La philosophie de la musique dans le roman du XVIIIe siècle: de l'effet au charme", published in Fictions de la pensée, pensées de la fiction. Roman et philosophie aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Editions Hermann, 2013.

Project initiated activities and events

Workshop at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne 2016

Projet Philidor

« Défis et difficultés de la recherche sur la comédie mêlée d’ariettes

dans la seconde moitié du dix-huitième siècle »

Le 27 février 2016

CELLF (Sorbonne), salle Jean-Fabre


Organisé par Martin Wåhlberg, Marie-Cécile Schang et Pierre Frantz

Avec le soutien de l’Université des Sciences et techniques de Norvège (NTNU), le Norwegian Research Council Program Cultural Conditions Underlying Cultural Change SAMKUL et du CELLF (Centre d’étude de la langue et des littératures françaises)


Pierre Frantz, Marie-Cécile Schang, Martin Wåhlberg, Judith le Blanc, Maxime Margollé, Benjamin Pintiaux, Charlotta Wolff, David Charlton, Julia Doe, Raphaëlle Legrand.

Opéra-comique and Politics in European Enlightenment - Main project conference 2015

Opéra-comique and Politics in European Enlightenment

International conference organized by

Martin Wåhlberg (NTNU, Trondheim), Pierre Frantz (Université de Paris-Sorbonne)

Trondheim, April 16th – 17th

Venue: Dokkhuset scene, Nedre Elvehavn, Trondheim

Thursday April 16th

Morning : opéra-comique : aesthetics and politics

09.15 Introduction

09.30 Martin Wåhlberg: « Opéra-comique and politics »

09.50 Marie-Cécile Schang: « Le Jardinier et son Seigneur de Sedaine et Philidor (1761) : Enjeux de la représentation du « bonheur simple » dans l’opéra-comique « villageois » des années 1760 »

10.10 David Charlton: « Grétry’s Richard Cœur-de-lion : an English opera for all political tastes »

11.30-11.20: Discussion and coffee break

11.20 Jennifer Ruimi: « La méchante femme corrigée : enjeux politiques et esthétiques des métamorphoses du Diable à Quatre de Sedaine »

11.40 Thibaut Julian: « Aspects politiques du style troubadour dans l’opéra-comique français (1762-1799) »

12.00 Discussion

Afternoon : opéra-comique and national questions in Europe

14.00 Alexey Evstratov: « "...la musique des opéras comiques français m'inspire de l'indignation et du mépris" (Catherine II): les succès et les échecs du répertoire français en Russie (1743-1796) »

14.20 Cecilie Louise Macé Stensrud: « The creation of a national Danish opera »

14.40 Dominique Porebska-Quasnik: « Style, Enjeu et  Message  de l’opéra-singspiel de Maciej Kamieński: La Misère rendue heureuse (Nędza uszczęśliwiona) [1778] dans L’Europe des Lumières »

15.30-16.20: Discussion and coffee break

16.20 Charlotta Wolff: « Political dimensions of opéra-comique in Sweden, ca. 1770–1820 »

16.40 Anabella Skagen: « The comic operas of Hans Iver Horn: Nuances of Danish-Norwegian patriotism during the Napoleonic wars »

17.00: Discussion


Opéra-comique and Politics in European Enlightenment

April 16th-17th, 2015

Friday April 17th


From Versailles to the French Revolution


09.00 Julia Doe: « Marie Antoinette et la Musique: Opéra-Comique at the French Court (1770-1789) »

09.20 Pierre Frantz: « Fantasmes de libération dans l'opéra comique de la Révolution »

09.40 – 10.20 Discussion et pause

10.20 Francois Lévy: « La représentation du monstre révolutionnaire dans le « fait historique »: le cas Marat-Mauger de Guilbert de Pixerécourt »

10.40 Maxime Margollé: « L’influence de la politique et de l’anticléricalisme sur le répertoire d’opéra-comique pendant la Révolution »

11.00: Discussion

Prima Musica seminar series

The "opéra-comique and society" project has taken part of the establishement of the Prima Musica Pre Nineteenth Century reserach group at the Department of Music at NTNU. The group sports a regular series of seminars on music and music history.

Seminars are held regularly from 2015 and are announced on the website of the Department of Music.

Book launch 2015

The publication of the book "La scène de musique dans le roman du dix-huitième siècle" was followed by a book launch in Paris in July 2015 with promotional activities in Paris and at the Festival International de Sarrebourg.

Participation at other conferences and workshops

Plays, Places and Participants, Trondheim

”Opéra-comique and the hierarchy of genres”, papver given at the conference Plays, Places and Participants - Light Opera, Dance and Theatre around 1800. NTNU, 5th november, 2013. The conference was organized by the pArts project at NTNU.

Diderot Théâtre. Musique, colloque international, Paris


Théâtre. Musique

Colloque international

6-8 juin 2013

Université Paris-Sorbonne

Amphithéâtre Guizot

1 rue Victor Cousin Paris 5e

Maison de la recherche

Salle des conférences (s. 035)

Salle 040

28 rue Serpente Paris 6e

Jeudi 6 juin 2013 (Sorbonne, Amphithéâtre Guizot)


Colloque international organisé avec le concours de l’ École Doctorale III de l’Université  Paris – Sorbonne du Centre d’Étude de la Langue et  de la Littérature Françaises des 17e et  18e siècles (UMR 8599 du CNRS et de l’Université Paris – Sorbonne ) de l’UMS 3323 « Maison de la recherche » de l’EA 4 087 (Équipe Patrimoines et Langages Musicaux) du  PRITEPS (Programme de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur le Théâtre et les Pratiques Scéniques) et de la Société Diderot (Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie)



Lines of Connection: An International Conference on Eighteenth-Century Poetry, Oxford

Lines of Connection: An International Conference on Eighteenth-Century Poetry - Oxford

Lines of Connection is organised by the Digital Miscellanies project in association with the TORCH Enlightenment Programme / Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment, Oxford on 7th and 8th July 2016.


The project is a three year personal research project carried out by postdoctoral fellow Martin Wåhlberg at NTNU.

Collaboration with scholars from a number of universities is however undertaken at various levels, notably throught conferences and collaborative publications. Please take contact for information concerning scholars or other persons or institutions involved in the project.