Le Bourgeois gentilhomme  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman) is a five-act comédie-ballet—a ballet interrupted by spoken dialogue—by Molière, first presented on October 14, 1670 before the court of Louis XIV at the château of Chambord by Molière's troupe of actors. The music was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the choreography was by Pierre Beauchamp, the sets were by Carlo Vigarani and the costumes were done by the chevalier d’Arvieux.

Le Bourgeois gentilhomme satirizes attempts at social climbing, poking fun both at the vulgar, pretentious middle-class and the vain, snobbish aristocracy. The title is meant as an oxymoron: in Molière's France, a "gentleman" was by definition nobly born, and thus there could be no such thing as a bourgeois gentleman. The play is in prose (except for the ballet openings which are in verse).

The original production brought together the finest actors and musicians of the time. Molière played the role of Monsieur Jourdain, clothed in bright colors trimmed with silver lace and muilticolored feathers; Hubert played Madame Jourdain ; Mlle de Brie played Dorimène; Armande Béjart played Lucile; and the composer Lully was the mufti.

Le Bourgeois gentilhomme reflected the then-current trend for les turqueries, all things related to the Ottoman Empire. The work stemmed from the scandal caused by the Turkish ambassador Suleyman Aga who, upon visiting the court of Louis XIV in 1669, affirmed the superiority of the Ottoman court over that of the Sun King.

The first performance of Der Bürger als Edelmann, a German version of the play, took place on October 25, 1912, adapted by Hugo von Hofmannsthal with incidental music by Richard Strauss. The turquerie was replaced by an appended operatic entertainment Ariadne auf Naxos, composed by Strauss to a libretto by Hofmannsthal, in which Jourdain's eccentric requirements have led to Ariadne being marooned on a desert island where there just happens to be a commedia dell'arte troupe. The whole was directed by Max Reinhardt. The combination of play and opera proved problematic. Hofmannsthal created a revised version of the play, reinstating the turquerie and removing the opera. Strauss provided further incidental music including some arrangements of Lully. Meanwhile the entertainment was provided with a separate operatic prologue and this is the form in which Ariadne is now usually given.

George Balanchine choreographed a modern version in 1979 for the New York City Opera, using Strauss's score. The production starred Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride, Rudolf Nureyev, Darla Hoover, Michael Puleo and students of the School of American Ballet.

Roles

  • Monsieur Jourdain, a bourgeois
  • Madame Jourdain, his wife
  • Lucile, their daughter
  • Nicole, their maid
  • Cléonte, suitor of Lucile
  • Covielle, Cléonte's lackey and who takes an interest in Nicole
  • Dorante, Count, suitor of Dorimène
  • Dorimène, Marchioness, a widow
  • Music Master
  • Pupil of the Music Master
  • Dancing Master
  • Fencing Master
  • Master of Philosophy
  • Tailor
  • Tailor's apprentice.
  • Two lackeys

Many male and female musicians, instrumentalists, dancers, cooks, tailor's apprentices, and others are needed for the interludes.

Synopsis

The play takes place entirely at Jourdain's house in Paris. Jourdain is a middle-aged bourgeois whose father grew rich as a cloth-merchant. The rather foolish Jourdain now has one aim in life—to rise above this middle-class background and be accepted as an aristocratic gentleman. To this end, he orders splendid new clothes (and is naively delighted when the tailor's boy mockingly addresses him as "my Lord") and applies himself to learning the gentlemanly arts of fencing, dancing, music and philosophy, despite his age; in doing so he continually manages to make a fool of himself, to the disgust of his hired teachers. Most famously, his philosophy lesson degenerates into a basic lesson on language in which he is surprised and delighted to learn that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it.

Mme Jourdain, his sensible wife, sees that he is making himself ridiculous and urges him to return to his previous unpretentious middle-class life, but to no avail. A parasitic, cash-strapped nobleman called Dorante has attached himself to M. Jourdain; he secretly despises Jourdain but flatters his aristocratic dreams (e.g. by telling Jourdain that he mentioned his name to the King at Versailles) so as to get Jourdain to pay his debts. Jourdain's dreams of social-climbing mount higher and higher: he dreams of marrying a Marchioness, Dorimene, and having his daughter Lucille marry a nobleman. But Lucille is in love with the middle-class Cléonte. Of course, M. Jourdain refuses his permission for Lucille to marry Cléonte.

Then Cléonte, with the assistance of his valet Covielle, disguises himself and presents himself to Jourdain as the son of the Sultan of Turkey. Needless to say, Jourdain is taken in and consents with delight to have his daughter marry foreign royalty. He is even more delighted when the "Turkish prince" informs him that, as father of the bride, he too will be officially ennobled at a special ceremony. The last scene of the play presents this ridiculous ceremony, full of mock-Turkish mumbo-jumbo.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Le Bourgeois gentilhomme" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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