Le maréchal ferrant

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Le maréchal ferrant (The Blacksmith) is a 1761 French two-act [1] opéra comique with spoken dialogue and music composed by François-André Danican Philidor as well as several vaudevilles (popular old songs with new words), which were typically included in opéras comiques of the time. The libretto is by Antoine-François Quétant, after one of the stories in Boccaccio's Decameron (VII, 1), with verses for the ariettes by Louis Anseaume and a plan devised by Serrière. [2]


Performance history

The work was first performed by the Opéra-Comique at the Théâtre de la Foire St Laurent in Paris, on 22 August 1761, and was later performed by the same company at the Hôtel de Bourgogne on 10 February 1762 [3] and for the royal court at Faintainebleau on 3 November 1762. [4] It became one of Philidor's most popular works, and performances in French followed in cities in many other countries, including Amsterdam in 1762, Vienna on 26 June 1763, Frankfurt on 25 March 1764 (or possibly earlier), Saint Petersburg on 7 October 1764 (where it was the first French opera ever to be performed in Russia), Turin in the spring of 1765, Dresden in 1765, Geneva in 1766, Copenhagen in February 1767, Brussels in 1767, Aachen on 23 July 1768, Ghent on 19 March 1769, Hamburg on 10 February 1769, Liège on 30 October 1770, Warsaw on 1 February 1778, Munich on 7 April 1783, Kassel on 2 October 1784, Cologne in 1796–1797, and even Kingston, Jamaica, on 15 February 1802. The work was also translated and performed in numerous other languages, including German, Danish, Russian, Swedish, English (Boston, 25 March 1793), Spanish and Dutch. [4] It was revived by the Opéra-Comique at the Théâtre Feydeau on 3 April 1802 [3] and at the Théâtre Trianon-Lyrique on 20 November 1920. [4]

Critical assessment

In the view of Julian Rushton, this is Philidor's "most colourful opéra comique, enlivened by mixed metres, parody, onomatopoeia, and inventive ensemble writing." [5] Philidor's music was influenced by Italian models and contrasted strongly with the French folkloric elements characteristic of the vaudevilles. [6] He was an expert chess player with an amazingly detailed memory, and sometimes wrote down music as his own that had actually been composed by others. [7] Charles Burney objected to this, writing in his Journal: "went to the Mareschal Ferrant.... I detest that mixture of old French vaudevilles with Philidor's Italian plunder." [6] However, Charles Simon Favart praised this aspect of Philidor's music, writing: "Our musical savants claim that Philidor has stolen from italians. What does it matter, if he enriches our nation with the beautiful things of foreign lands which we should perhaps never have known without him?" [6]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 22 August 1761
Marcel, the village blacksmith and surgeon baritone
Jeanette, Marcel's daughter soprano
La Bride, a coachman tenor
Claudine, a village girlsoprano
Colin, loved by Claudine but engaged to Jeanettetenor
Bastien, a peasanttenor
Eustache, a peasant bass


A village farce involving two young couples, a sleeping potion, mistaken identities etc.

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  1. The libretto of 1761 suggests a one-act reduction and provides 6 verses to facilitate the transition between the acts (Wild & Charlton 2005 , p. 319). Some later libretti were printed in the one-act version, for example see the Nabu reprint ( ISBN   9781173159573, title page and preface omitted).
  2. The contributions made by Anseaume and Serrière are mentioned by Desboulmiers 1769, vol. 2, p. 126 (see also Wild & Charlton 2005 , p. 319).
  3. 1 2 Wild & Charlton 2005 , p. 319
  4. 1 2 3 Loewenberg 1978 , columns 252–253
  5. Rushton 1992, p. 208.
  6. 1 2 3 Heartz 2003 , p.  752
  7. Heartz 2003 , p.  738