The Bald Soprano
|The Bald Soprano|
|Written by||Eugène Ionesco|
|Date premiered||11 May 1950|
|Place premiered||Théâtre des Noctambules
|Original language||Romanian, French|
|Genre||Theatre of the Absurd|
La Cantatrice Chauve (Cântăreața Cheală in Romanian) — translated from French as The Bald Soprano or The Bald Prima Donna — is the first play written by French-Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco. Nicolas Bataille directed the premiere on 11 May 1950 at the Théâtre des Noctambules, Paris. Since 1957 it has been in permanent showing at the Théâtre de la Huchette, which received a Molière d'honneur for its performances. With a record number of interpretations, it has become one of the most performed plays in France.
The idea of the play came to Ionesco while he was trying to learn English with the Assimil method. He was impressed by the contents of the dialogues, often very sober and strange, so he decided to write an absurd play named L'anglais sans peine ("English without toil"). Another working title for the play was Il pleut des chiens et des chats ("It's raining cats and dogs"). He originally wrote the play in his native language Romanian, then wrote it again in his adopted language French. The current title was set only after a verbal slip-up made by one of the actors during the rehearsals.
The Smiths are a traditional couple from London who have invited another couple, the Martins, over for a visit. They are joined later by the Smiths' maid, Mary, and the local fire chief, who is also Mary's lover. The two families engage in meaningless banter, telling stories and relating nonsensical poems. At one point, Mrs. Martin converses with her husband as if he were a stranger she just met. As the fire chief turns to leave, he mentions "the bald soprano" in passing, which has a very unsettling effect on the others. Mrs. Smith replies that "she always styles her hair the same way." After the Fire Chief's exit, the play devolves into a series of complete non-sequiturs, with no resemblance to normal conversation. It ends with the two couples shouting in unison "It's not that way. It's over here!," right before a blackout occurs. When the lights come back on, the scene starts from the beginning with the Martins reciting the Smiths' lines from the beginning of the play for a while before the curtain closes.
Like many plays in the theatre of the absurd genre, the underlying theme of The Bald Soprano is not immediately apparent. Many suggest that it expresses the futility of meaningful communication in modern society. The script is charged with non sequiturs that give the impression that the characters are not even listening to each other in their frantic efforts to make their own voices heard. There was speculation around the time of its first performance, categorising it as a parody. Ionesco states in an essay written to his critics, that he had no intention of parody, but if he were parodying anything, it would be everything.
The Bald Soprano appears to have been written as a continuous loop. The final scene contains stage instructions to start the performance over from the very beginning, with the Martin couple substituted for the Smith couple and vice versa. However, this decision was only added in after the show's hundredth premier, for it was originally for the Smiths to restart the show, in exactly the same manner as before.
According to Ionesco, he had several possible endings in mind, including a climax in which the "author" or "manager" antagonizes the audience, and even a version in which the audience would be shot with machine guns. However this was ultimately settled for a cheaper solution, the cycle. Ionesco told Claude Bonnefoy in an interview, "I wanted to give a meaning to the play by having it begin all over again with two characters. In this way the end becomes a new beginning but, since there are two couples in the play, it begins the first time with the Smiths and the second time with the Martins, to suggest the interchangeable nature of the characters: the Smiths are the Martins and the Martins are the Smiths".
- Rosette C. Lamont. Ionesco's imperatives: the politics of culture. University of Michigan Press, 1993. ISBN 0-472-10310-5. pg. 3.
- (Romanian) Lovinescu, Monica (2008). La apa Vavilonului. Bucharest, Romania: Humanitas. p. 100. ISBN 978-973-50-2637-0.
- Erich Segal. The Death of Comedy. Harvard University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-674-01247-X pg. 422.
- Bonnefoy, Claude. Conversations with Ionesco. Trans. Jan Dawson. New York: Hold, Rinehart and Winston, 1971. pg. 81.