Versailles society theater is commonly associated with the papier-mâché theater of Marie-Antoinette; but to give credit where it is due, I must say that the Queen re-cycled the ideas of Madame de Pompadour, all be it with the lesser political effect. Pompadour’s society theater gave the king’s mistress a significant tactical advantage over her enemies, for space was always at a premium at the palace, and to attend an event where there was just enough room for His Majesty and a few hand-picked individuals meant a social promotion; enough to say that in the small apartments Louis XV himself made and served coffee to his guests; therefore, getting a part in one of the plays meant a lot, for as far as the ranking, below dukes, it was a plain field, and getting just an inch ahead was the Versailles raison d’être, which Pompadour skillfully exploited. We know, for example, that Marquis de Voyer, the son of the all-powerful Minister of War, Argenson — his dad was at daggers drawn with Pompadour, got his role in Tartufe in exchange for a few military pensions. The other significant difference between Pompadour and Marie-Antoinette’s theaters was that when on 4 March 1748 Marquis de Coigny, who starred in the Prodigal Son, was killed in a duel, Pompadour tried ballet, and later even operas; operas were much harder to perform; so, on some occasions the professional tenor Bazire, hidden from the spectators’ view, acted as phonogramme to Vicomte de Rohan.
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