Mademoiselle Beaumesnil

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Henriette Adélaïde Villard,
known as Mlle Beaumesnil

Henriette Adélaïde Villard or Henriette-Adélaïde de Villars, known under the stage name of Mlle Beaumesnil (30 August 1748 – 5 October 1813), was a French opera singer and composer.


Mlle Beaumesnil began working in minor comedy roles from the age of seven and debuted as a soloist at the Paris Opera in 1766,[1] substituting for the primadonna Sophie Arnould in the title role of Berton and Trial's Sylvie.[2] She later sang in many premieres and revivals, patiently hoping that she would finally replace Arnould after her retirement.

When the latter left the company in 1778, however, Rosalie Levasseur was preferred and Beaumesnil protested publicly in a letter to the Journal de Paris on 27 December[3] to the effect that she had suffered an act of injustice. She gave rise to a bitter quarrel, but did not carry out her threat to resign until 1781, when she finally left the stage.[4]

Around the same period she married tenor "Philippe" (Philippe Cauvy, 1754-ca 1820), a celebrated member of the Opéra-Comique (or, to be precise, the Comédie Italienne).[5] Concerning Mlle Beaumesnil's strong temperament, Émile Campardon also relates the story (maybe a legend) of her being involved in a 'duel au pistolet' with the dancer Mlle Théodore (born Marie-Madelaine Crepé, 1760-1796).[6] The two women firmly refused the mediation efforts of the conductor of the Paris Opera orchestra Jean-Baptiste Rey who had turned up at the scene of the duel. They eventually got back the pistols he had taken over and laid down on the grass, and would begin the fight. The pistols however had got moist with dew and misfired, whereupon the two ladies decided to bury their differences by throwing their arms around each other's neck.[7]

Mlle Beaumesnil wrote music from time to time and was the third woman to have a composition of hers performed at the Paris Opéra.[8] Anacréon, her first opera, was not accepted and just received a private performance at the Brunoy residence of the Count of Provence in 1781. In 1784, however, she set again to music the libretto[9] of the third entrée of Colin de Blamont's Les festes grecques et romaines, under the title of Tibulle et Délie, and her composition was successfully given at the Paris Opera to serve as a companion piece for Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide on 15 March 1784.[10] In 1792, her two-act opéra comique, Plaire, c'est commander was mounted at the Théâtre Montansier.[2]

She died in Paris in 1813.


Selected works include:


  1. ^ a b Sadie/Rhian
  2. ^ a b Cook.
  3. ^ The letter is quoted in Campardon, pp. 51-52.
  4. ^ Pitou.
  5. ^ Campardon, p. 57. At the time, the Opéra-Comique was merged into the Comédie Italienne.
  6. ^ Mlle Théodore was the wife of the ballet master Jean Dauberval.
  7. ^ Campardon, pp. 54-55.
  8. ^ According to the website Dolmetsch online Beaumesnil was "the second woman to have her compositions performed at the Opéra, Paris" ("Composers biography:V - Vz". Retrieved 13 October 2010.). Indeed, the Académie Royale de Musique had previously staged works by at least two other women composers: the tragédie-lyrique Céphale et Procris by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, in 1694, and the opéra-ballet Les Génies by Mlle Duval in 1736.
  9. ^ Words by Louis Fuzelier.
  10. ^ Cook; Pitou. The acte de ballet had been already premiered at court in February 1784 (Campardon p. 53).
  11. ^ césar
  • (in French) Campardon, Émile (ed), Les Comédiens du roi de la troupe italienne pendant les deux derniers siècles: documents inédits recueillis aux Archives Nationales, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1880, I, pp. 51–52 (accessible for free online at Gallica - B.N.F)
  • Cook, Elizabeth Beaumesnil, Henriette Adélaïde Villard de, in Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Grove (Oxford University Press), New York, 1997, I, p. 366. ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2
  • Pitou, Spire, The Paris Opéra. An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers – Rococo and Romantic, 1715-1815, Greenwood Press, Westport/London, 1985, article: Beaumesnil, Henriette-Adélaïde Villard DITE, pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-313-24394-8
  • Sadie, Julie Anne; Samuel, Rhian (1994). The Norton/Grove dictionary of women composers (Digitized online by GoogleBooks). Retrieved 13 October 2010.