Le petit duc

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Le petit duc (The little duke) is an opéra comique in three acts by Charles Lecocq. The French libretto was by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. [1]

Opéra comique is a genre of French opera that contains spoken dialogue and arias. It emerged from the popular opéras comiques en vaudevilles of the Fair Theatres of St Germain and St Laurent, which combined existing popular tunes with spoken sections. Associated with the Paris theatre of the same name, opéra comique is not always comic or light in nature; Carmen, perhaps the most famous opéra comique, is a tragedy.

Charles Lecocq French musical composer

Alexandre Charles Lecocq was a French composer, known for his opérettes and opéras comiques. He became the most prominent successor to Jacques Offenbach in this sphere, and enjoyed considerable success in the 1870s and early 1880s, before the changing musical fashions of the late 19th century made his style of composition less popular. His few serious works include the opera Plutus (1886), which was not a success, and the ballet Le cygne (1899). His only piece to survive in the regular modern operatic repertory is his 1872 opéra comique La fille de Madame Angot. Others of his more than forty stage works receive occasional revivals.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.


Performance history

The opera was first presented at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris, on 25 January 1878 and revived there in the 1879, 1881 and 1883 seasons with Granier. The first run confirmed the stardom of Granier and was a major financial success for the theatre, which took 6,000 francs a night. [2]

Théâtre de la Renaissance theater in Paris

The name Théâtre de la Renaissance has been used successively for three distinct Parisian theatre companies. The first two companies, which were short-lived enterprises in the 19th century, used the Salle Ventadour, now an office building on the Rue Méhul in the 2nd arrondissement.

It was staged again in Paris at the Théâtre Eden in 1888 (with Granier and Dupuis), the Bouffes-Parisiens in 1897 and the Théâtre des Variétés in 1904. It continued to be seen regularly in France up to the Second World War. [3]

Théâtre des Variétés theatre in Montmartre, Paris, France

The Théâtre des Variétés is a theatre and "salle de spectacles" at 7-8, boulevard Montmartre, 2nd arrondissement, in Paris. It was declared a monument historique in 1975.

It was first performed in London on 27 April 1878, and then in 1881 Granier, Mily-Meyer, Alexandre, Jolly and Desclauzas appeared in a production. Its popularity was such that 1878 also saw premieres in Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Madrid, Turin and Budapest. New York (and Mexico) first saw the piece in March 1879, with other productions in America showing up to 1896. [4]

Roles and role creators

RoleVoice typePremiere Cast, 25 January 1878
(Conductor: Raoul Madier de Montjau)
Duke of Parthenay soprano Jeanne Granier
Duchess Blanche of Parthenaysoprano Mily-Meyer
Diane de Château-Lansac mezzo-soprano Marie Desclauzas
Frimousse tenor Jean-François Berthelier
Montlandry [5] baritone Eugène Vauthier
De la Roche-Tonnerresoprano Léa d’Asco
De Navailletenor Urbain
De MonchevrierElim
De Tanneville Bovet
De Champvallier [5] Hervier
De MérignacDeberg
De Nancey Desclos
De PontgrivardDuchosal
De Champlâtresoprano Piccolo
Julien Panseron
Helene Lasselin
Saint Anémoinemezzo-soprano
Courtiers, soldiers, pupils


The first act of the opera is set in the Oeil-de-Boeuf at Versailles. The very young Duke of Parthenay has been married by his family to Blanche de Cambry, the young daughter of a rich family. Two tutors, Frimousse and Montlandry, are arguing. Although the adolescent couple would like to spend some time together, the families decide that as they are both very young, the wife should go to a private school for aristocratic ladies for two years, while the furious young husband is sent off to be the colonel of a regiment. He wants to get back to his wife, and leads the regiment to the convent school.

Palace of Versailles French palace on the outskirts of Paris

The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI. It is located in the department of Yvelines, in the region of Île-de-France, about 20 kilometres southwest of the centre of Paris.

The second act opens at the ladies college in Lunéville run by Diane de Château-Lansac, and where Frimousse is teaching the girls. The principal learns that the regiment of Parthenay has surrounded her school. The little duke has meanwhile taken the disguise of a peasant girl while his men lay siege, and manages to gain entry to the school and meet his wife. However, the principal discovers them and tells him that war has broken out at the frontier. He and his men are forced to leave, along with Frimousse, who is dragged from his hiding place to go with them.

Lunéville Subprefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Lunéville is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in France.

The setting for the third act, a camp by a battlefield, sees the duke's regiment arrive in time to help win victory for the French troops. Returning to his tent, the little duke discovers there his Blanche, who has run away from the school. As a recompense he is allowed to be fully reunited with his wife and they set off for Versailles to bring news of the French victory to the king.


A recording of thirteen excerpts was made at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in 1953 with Nadine Renaux, Liliane Berton, Willy Clément, René Hérent and Freda Betti, conducted by Jules Gressier.

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  1. Lamb A, Gänzl, K. Charles Lecocq. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  2. Noel E & Stoullig E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 9eme edition, 1878. G Charpentier et Cie, Paris, 1879.
  3. Gänzl K, Lamb A. Gänzl's Book of the Musical Theatre. The Bodley Head, London, 1988.
  4. Loewenberg A. Annals of Opera. London, John Calder, 1978.
  5. 1 2 (These roles were changed after several performances having originally been, respectively, Boislandry and Champvallon.)