A lively sketch of the French opera of this period is given by Addison in No. 29 of the “Spectator.” “The music of the French,” he says, “is indeed very properly adapted to their pronunciation and accent, as their whole opera wonderfully favors the genius of such a gay, airy people. The chorus in which that opera abounds gives the parterre frequent opportunities of joining in concert with the stage. This inclination of the audience to sing along with the actors so prevails with them that I have sometimes known the performer on the stage to do no more in a celebrated song than the clerk of a parish church, who serves only to raise the psalm, and is afterward drowned in the music of the congregation. Every actor that comes on the stage is a beau. The queens and heroines are so painted that they appear as ruddy and cherry-cheeked as milkmaids. The shepherds are all embroidered, and acquit themselves in a ball better than our English dancing-masters. I have seen a couple of rivers appear in red stockings; and Alpheus, instead of having his head covered with sedge and bulrushes, making love in a fair, full-bottomed periwig, and a plume of feathers; but with a voice so full of shakes and quavers, that I should have thought the murmur of a country brook the much more agreeable music. I remember the last opera I saw in that merry nation was the ‘Rape of Proserpine,’ where Pluto, to make the more tempting figure, puts himself in a French equipage, and brings Ascalaphus along with him as his valet de chambre. This is what we call folly and impertinence, but what the French look upon as gay and polite.”
The French musical drama continued without much chance in the hands of the Lulli school (for the musician had several skillful imitators and successors) till the appearance of Jean Philippe Rameau, who inaugurated a new era. This celebrated man was born in Auvergne in 1683, and was during his earlier life the organist of the Clermont cathedral church. Here he pursued the scientific researches in music which entitled him in the eyes of his admirers to be called the Newton of his art. He had reached the age of fifty without recognition as a dramatic composer, when the production of “Hippolyte et Aricie” excited a violent feud by creating a strong current of opposition to the music of Lulli. He produced works in rapid succession, and finally overcame all obstacles, and won for himself the name of being the greatest lyric composer which France up to that time had produced. His last opera, “Les Paladins,” was given in 1760, the composer being then seventy-seven.