Julie d'Aubigny

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"Mademoiselle Maupin de l'Opéra".
Anonymous print, ca. 1700.

Julie d'Aubigny (1673 – 1707), better known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was a 17th-century swordswoman and opera singer. Her tumultuous career and flamboyant life were the subject of gossip and colourful stories in her own time, and inspired numerous portrayals afterwards. Théophile Gautier loosely based the title character, Madeleine de Maupin, of his novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) on her.

Early life[edit]

Julie d'Aubigny was born in 1673[1] to Gaston d'Aubigny, a secretary to Louis de Lorraine-Guise, comte d'Armagnac, the Master of the Horse for King Louis XIV. Her father trained the court pages, and so his daughter learned dancing, reading, drawing, and fencing alongside the pages, and dressed as a boy from an early age.[2] By the age of fourteen, she became a mistress of the Count d'Armagnac who had her married to Sieur de Maupin of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Soon after the wedding, her husband received an administrative position in the south of France, but she stayed in Paris.

Youth and wild reputation[edit]

The fictional Mademoiselle de Maupin, from Six Drawings Illustrating Theophile Gautier's Romance Mademoiselle de Maupin by Aubrey Beardsley, 1898

Around 1687, Madame de Maupin became involved with an assistant fencing master named Sérannes. When Lieutenant-General of Police Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie tried to apprehend Sérannes for killing a man in an illegal duel, the pair fled the city to Marseille.

On the road south, Madame de Maupin and Sérannes made a living by giving fencing exhibitions and singing in taverns and at local fairs. While travelling and performing in these impromptu shows, Maupin dressed in male clothing but did not conceal her gender. On arrival in Marseille, she joined the opera company run by Pierre Gaultier, singing under her maiden name.


Eventually, she grew bored of Sérannes and became involved with a young woman. When the girl's parents put her away in the Visitandines convent in Avignon, Maupin followed, entering the convent as a postulant. In order to run away with her new love, she stole the body of a dead nun, placed it in the bed of her lover, and set the room on fire to cover their escape.[3] Their affair lasted for three months before the young lady returned to her family. Maupin was charged in absentia—as a male—with kidnapping, body snatching, arson, and failing to appear before the tribunal. The sentence was death by fire.

Maupin left for Paris and again earned her living by singing. Near Poitiers, she met an old actor named Maréchal who began to teach her until his alcoholism got worse and he sent her on her way to Paris.[4]

In Villeperdue, still wearing men's clothing, she was insulted by a young nobleman. They fought a duel and she drove her blade through his shoulder. The next day, she asked about his health and found out he was Louis-Joseph d'Albert Luynes, son of the Duke of Luynes. Later, one of his companions came to offer d'Albert's apologies. She went to his room and subsequently they became lovers and, later, lifelong friends.

After Count d'Albert recovered and had to return to his military unit, Maupin continued to Rouen. There she met Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, another singer, and began a new affair with him. They continued together towards Paris in the hope of joining the Paris Opéra. In the Marais, she contacted Count d'Armagnac for help against the sentence hanging over her. He persuaded the king to grant her a pardon and allow her to sing with the Opéra.

Opera and adult life[edit]

The Paris Opéra hired Thévenard in 1690, but initially refused her. She befriended an elderly singer, Bouvard, and he and Thévenard convinced Jean Nicolas Francin, master of the king's household, to accept her into the company. She debuted as Pallas Athena in Cadmus et Hermione by Jean-Baptiste Lully the same year. She performed regularly with the Opéra, first singing as a soprano, and later in her more natural contralto range. The Marquis de Dangeau wrote in his journal of a performance by Maupin given at Trianon of Destouches' Omphale in 1701 that hers was "the most beautiful voice in the world".[5]

In Paris, and later in Brussels, she performed under the name Mademoiselle de Maupin - singers were addressed as 'mademoiselle' whether or not they were married.

Due to Mademoiselle de Maupin's beautiful voice, her acting skill, and her androgynous appearance, she became quite popular with the audience, although her relationship with her fellow actors and actresses was sometimes tempestuous. She famously beat the singer Louis Gaulard Dumesny after he pestered the women members of the troupe, and a legendary duel of wits with Thévenard was the talk of Paris. She also fell in love with Fanchon Moreau, another singer who was the mistress of the Grand Dauphin, and tried to commit suicide when she was rejected.

Her Paris career was interrupted around 1695, when she kissed a young woman at a society ball and was challenged to duels by three different noblemen. She beat them all, but fell afoul of the king's law that forbade duels in Paris. She fled to Brussels to wait for calmer times. There, she was briefly the mistress of Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria.

While in Brussels, Mademoiselle de Maupin appeared at the Opéra du Quai au Foin from November 1697 to July 1698, after which she returned to the Paris Opéra to replace the retiring Marie Le Rochois. She and her friend d'Albert were both in trouble with the law over the years: he for yet another fatal duel, and she for beating up her landlord.[6]

Until 1705, La Maupin sang in new operas by Pascal Collasse, André Cardinal Destouches, and André Campra. In 1702, André Campra composed the role of Clorinde in Tancrède specifically for her bas-dessus (contralto) range. She sang for the court at Versailles on a number of occasions, and again performed in many of the Opéra's major productions. She appeared for the last time in La Vénitienne by Michel de La Barre (1705).

These final years of her career were spent in a relationship with the Madame la Marquise de Florensac, upon whose death La Maupin was inconsolable. She retired from the opera in 1705 and took refuge in a convent, probably in Provence, where she died in 1707 at the age of only 33. She has no known grave.

Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin[edit]

Théophile Gautier, when asked to write a story about d'Aubigny, instead produced the novel Mademoiselle de Maupin, published in 1835, taking aspects of the real La Maupin as a starting point, and naming some of the characters after her and her acquaintances. The central character's life was viewed through a romantic lens as "all for love". D'Albert and his mistress Rosette are both in love with the androgynous Théodore de Sérannes, whom neither of them knows is really Madeleine de Maupin. A performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It, in which La Maupin, who is passing as Théodore, plays the part of Rosalind playing Ganymede, mirrors the cross-dressing pretense of the heroine. The celebration of sensual love, regardless of gender, was radical, and the book was banned by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and authorities elsewhere.

Opera roles created[edit]

Portrayals[edit]

Apart from Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin, La Maupin has been portrayed many times in print, stage and screen, including:

  • Labie, Charles and Augier, Joanny (1839), La Maupin, ou, Une vengeance d'actrice: comedie-vaudeville en un acte Mifliez, Paris. (In French.)
  • Evans, Henri (1980) Amand and its sequel (1985) La petite Maupin, France Loisirs, Paris. (In French.)
  • Dautheville, Anne-France (1995), Julie, chevalier de Maupin J.-C. Lattes, Paris. (In French.)
  • Gardiner, Kelly, 2014, Goddess, Fourth Estate/HarperCollins, Sydney (in English)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Parfaict, F & C (1756). Dictionnaire Des Theatres De Paris, Volume 3. Paris: Lambert. 
  2. ^ Rogers, Cameron (1928). Gallant Ladies. New York: Harcourt, Brace. 
  3. ^ Fetis, François-Joseph (1850). "Maupin (Mlle) cantatrice, sa biographie". Revue musicale 6: 344–346. 
  4. ^ Gilbert, Oscar Paul (1932). Women In Men's Guise. London: John Lane. 
  5. ^ Gilbert, Oscar Paul (1932). Women In Men's Guise. London: John Lane. 
  6. ^ Letainturier-Fradin, Gabriel (1904). La Maupin, 1670-1707, sa vie, ses duels, ses aventures. Paris: Flammarion. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • La Borde, J-B de (1780), Essai sur la musique, iii, 519 ff
  • Campardon, E (1884), L'Académie royale de musique au XVIIIe siècle, ii, 177 ff
  • Clayton, E (1864), "Early French Singers — Marthe Le Rochois—La Maupin", Queens of Song, Harper, New York
  • Pitou, S (1983), The Paris Opera : an encyclopedia of operas, ballets, composers, and performers, vol. 1, Greenwood Press, Westport.
  • Sadie, Julie Anne (1992), 'Maupin' in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London) ISBN 0-333-73432-7

External links[edit]