The opera debuted at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1890 and was mounted in Brussels in 1890, Geneva in 1891, London in 1891–1892 and New York in 1893. Since then it has been revived in France and elsewhere.
Messager's 1889 opérette Le mari de la reine at Bouffes-Parisiens was a disappointment, and the composer and his wife were struggling to afford even basic necessities until he found success with La Basoche. The title of the operetta refers to the old Parisian guild of law clerks that was abolished with the French revolution in the 18th century.
La Basoche was first performed at the Opéra-Comique (Salle du Théâtre Lyrique, place du Châtelet), Paris, on 30 May 1890 and was initially given on 51 nights. It was revived there up to the Second World War and given at least another 150 performances, with Jean Périer, André Baugé playing Clément Marot and Lucien Fugère repeating the role of the duke. Messager himself conducted the 1900, 1902 and 1919 productions at the Opéra-Comique, while later revivals were conducted by Gustave Cloëz and Albert Wolff. In 1908 the work entered the repertoire of the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris, the cast including Baugé, Edmée Favart and Fugère and was revived there in 1927. It was presented at the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin in 1934 under the management of Maurice Lehmann with Baugé and Yvonne Brothier.
La Basoche was given French-language productions in Brussels in 1890 and Geneva in 1891. It was translated into German and performed as Die zwei Könige on 19 October 1891 at the Stadttheater, Hamburg, and as Die Basoche on 29 October 1891 at the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Städtisches Theater in Berlin.
It was presented in London in 1891 in an English translation by Augustus Harris (dialogue) and Eugène Oudin (lyrics) at Richard D'Oyly Carte's Royal English Opera House (today's Palace Theatre), running from 3 November 1891 to 16 January 1892. Carré and Messager were present at the opening night and took curtain calls along with the conductor, François Cellier. Stage direction was by Hugh Moss, and the cast included David Bispham (alternating with Wallace Brownlow) as the Duke, Ben Davies (and Joseph O'Mara) as Clément Marot, Charles Kenningham as Jehan L'Eville, Frederick Bovill as the Chancellor and John Le Hay as Guillot. The piece earned high critical praise. Carte's faith in the composer led to his producing Messager's Mirette in 1894.
An American version, in a new translation by Madeleine Lucette Ryley, with her husband J. H. Ryley as the Duke, was produced by the James C. Duff Opera Company at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre on 2 January 1893 and the Casino Theatre on 27 February 1893 for a two-week run on Broadway. Gustave Kerker conducted. The critic of The New York Times stated that "for the music, warm words of praise may be spoken", but thought the genre was "far too unfamiliar on the local stage" and Ryley ill-suited to the part, "not as funny as one could have wished."
More recently, the opera has been staged at Monte Carlo in 1954, with a cast including Denise Duval and Pierre Mollet, conducted by Albert Wolff, and at Enghien-les-Bains Casino in 1958 with Willy Clément, conducted by Jésus Etcheverry.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast
30 May 1890
(Conductor: Jules Danbé)
|1891 London cast
(Conductor: Francois Cellier)
|Roland, a student of law||bass||César Bernaert||Mr. Carrington|
|Clément Marot, a poet||baritone||Gabriel Soulacroix||Ben Davies and Joseph O'Mara|
|Colette, his wife||soprano||Marie Molé-Truffier||Lucile Hill|
|Marie d’Angleterre, princess of England||soprano||Lize Landouzy||Esther Palliser|
|Le Duc de Longueville||baritone||Lucien Fugère||David Bispham and
|L'éveillé, Clement's friend||tenor||Ernest Carbonne||Charles Kenningham|
|Louis XII, king of France||tenor||Maris||W. H. Burgon|
|Guillot||tenor||Barnolt||John Le Hay|
|Le chancelier||tenor||Thierry||Frederick Bovill|
|L'écuyer du roi||baritone||Étienne Troy||Wilson Sheffield|
|Le grand prévôt,
le veilleur de nuit
|Chorus: Citizens, girls, clerks.|
The action takes place in Paris in 1514. In 1303, King Philippe IV of France had permitted the students of Paris to form a guild called "La Basoche". The guild continued for nearly five hundred years. The head of "La Basoche", elected annually, assumed the title of "King" and wore the royal crown and mantle. In the opera, the student Clement Marot is elected King of the Basoche and is mistaken for Louis XII, King of France.
- A square near the Châtelet, on the right the tavern du Plat d’Etain. The day of the election of the king of the Basoche.
The poet Clément Marot puts himself forward against the pedant Roland (in a poem "Oui, de rimes je fais moisson"). As the king of the basochians is required to be a bachelor, he hides the existence of a wife, Colette, whom he has left behind in Chevreuse. When she arrives in Paris he pretends not to know her – but tells her secretly that he will rejoin her soon. She gets herself taken on at the tavern, where the next day the widowed Louis XII will receive his new young wife, Mary of England, the sister of Henry VIII. The same Mary now arrives incognito, disguised as a Norman, accompanied by the Duc de Longueville. When the procession of the king of the Basoche comes along, Colette takes Marot to be the real king, while Mary thinks that the man is her husband.
- Evening – a large room in the Plat d’Etain tavern.
While clerks party, and Roland hopes to unmask Marot and his wife, Colette, at work, dreams of her future life as a queen. In a duet, both Marie and Colette declare their love for the 'king'. The Duke returns from the royal palace where he has announced the arrival of Mary, who sends him off to request the 'king' attend her for dinner, and then goes off to get ready to receive him. Marot reaffirms his love for Colette, but Mary returns and sees the one she thinks is to be her husband; Colette begins to serve them dinner.
Roland’s party burst in to reveal Marot’s existing marriage, but it is Mary who says that she is the wife of the king and the duke who in turn says that he is Mary’s wife. After everyone else has left, the king’s entourage arrive – only for Colette to receive them, and be taken to the Hôtel des Tournelles.
- The Hôtel de Tournelles
Louis XII greets Colette, who cannot believe that the old man is her husband. Believing that he has been deceived, the King decides to send Longueville and Colette to England; alone, the duke thinks that the young woman loves him. The cortege of the Basoche passes by the palace, and the two women realise who their 'king' was. Colette consoles herself with the thought that she will have Clément back, Marie disappointed, finding the false king more charming than the real one.
The duke suddenly realizes what has happened, and wants Marot arrested, but it is Roland, now the Basoche king, who is taken. Convinced that he will hang, Marot makes his farewell, but he is pardoned by Louis, and leaves Paris with Colette, while Louis marries Marie.
- "C’est aujourd’hui que la Basoche" (Ensemble)
- "Je suis aimé de la plus belle" (Clément)
- "En attendant l’heure de la bataille" (Guillot)
- "Quand tu connaîtra Colette" (Clément)
- "Midi, c’est l’heure qui nous ramène" (Chorus)
- "Volage? Lui? Clément?" (Colette)
- "Bonjour ami" (Colette, Clément, Roland, L’Eveillé, Chorus)
- "Dans ce grand Paris" (L’Eveillé)
- "Nous reposer? C’est impossible Altesse" (Longueville, Marie)
- "Trop lourd est le poids du veuvage" (Longueville)
- Finale I " Vive le Roi!" (Chorus, Clément, Marie, Guillot, Colette)
- "A vous, belles maîtresses" (Chorus)
- "Voici le guet qui passe" (Ensemble)
- "Si, de la souveraineté" (Marie, Colette)
- "Ah! Colette, c’est toi? " Clément, Colette
- "A table! auprès de moi" (Marie, Clément, Colette)
- "Eh! que ne parliez-vous?" (Longueville)
- "Il faut agir adroitement " (Ensemble)
- "Nous accourons, au lever du soleil" (Ensemble)
- "Jour de liesse et de réjouissance?" (Chorus, Louis, l’écuyer)
- "En honneur de notre hyménée" (Colette, Louis)
- "Elle m’aime" (Longueville)
- Romance and trio (Marie, Longueville, Colette)
- "A ton amour simple et sincère" (Clément)
- Finale III "Arrêtez! s’il s’agit d’être pendu" (Ensemble)
Recordings and broadcasts
Various extracts were recorded during the 1920s and 30s (including some by Fugère). It was broadcast by the BBC in the 1920s, and a complete French radio broadcast of July 1960, with Nadine Sautereau, Camille Maurane, Irène Jaumillot and Louis Noguera, conducted by Tony Aubin, was subsequently issued on CD. Extended excerpts were recorded in 1961, featuring Liliane Berton, Nicole Broissin, Henri Legay and Michel Dens, conducted by Jacques Pernoo.
- Wagstaff J., André Messager. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
- La Basoche, the Opérette site of l'Académie Nationale de l'Opérette (ANAO), 11 October 2008 (French language)
- Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900–1950). André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
- Information about La Basoche on the French Art-Lyrique website, accessed 17 August 2015
- Gänzl, p. 120; Stoullig, E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 34eme édition, 1908. G Charpentier et E Fasquelle, Paris, 1909, p. 352
- Gänzl, p. 120
- The Times, 3 November 1891, p. 6; and 16 January 1892, p. 6
- La Basoche was to be given in alternation with the second run of Arthur Sullivan's Ivanhoe and several other operas. Ivanhoe played for only six more performances, however, and Carte failed to get the other operas produced, and so the Royal English Opera House closed. Sir Henry Wood recalled in his autobiography, "If D'Oyly Carte had had a repertory of six operas instead of only one, I believe he would have established English opera in London for all time. See Wood, Henry. My Life of Music, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. (1938). After La Basoche closed, Carte leased out the theatre for a year and then sold it. See Jacobs, Arthur. "Carte, Richard D'Oyly (1844–1901)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004, accessed 12 September 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32311; and Ainger, pp 331–332 and 333
- Traubner, p. 213
- "Genuine Opera Comique: 'The Basoche' was sung at the Casino last night", The New York Times, 23 February 1893, p. 8
- "News – Monte Carlo", Opera, May 1954, p. 299
- "Report from France – Enghien-les-Bains", Opera, November 1958, p. 725
- Program in the Billy Rose Theater Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; The Times, 3 November 1891, p. 6; and The Times, 16 January 1892, p. 6
- In fact designated as 'trial' after the singer Antoine Trial
- Lubbock, Mark and David Ewen. The Complete Book of Light Opera, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts (1963), p. 127
- Morin P. Hommage à André Messager. Notes for Cascavelle CD Vel 3074, 2003.
- Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan–A Dual biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514769-3.
- Gänzl, Kurt (2001). The Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0028655729.
- Traubner, Richard (2004). Operetta: a theatrical history (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 1135887837.