Home            Folies de Paris: The Rise and Fall of French Operetta

Folies de Paris: The Rise and Fall of French Operetta, published in 1979, was Harding's sixth biography set against the backdrop of French music.
Reviews of Folies de Paris: The Rise and Fall of French Operetta
"Dr Harding, in addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of the French theatre and French music, is...also a true connoisseur of human oddity." Morchard Bishop, Books & Bookmen

The book

An entertaining history of French operetta and the talented and often eccentric composers who made this genre so much their own - including Offenbach, Hervé, Messager, and Cuvillier.

The colourful story of French operetta began under the placid reign of Louis-Philippe and blossomed throughout the gaslit gaiety of the Second Empire.  In the middle years of the Third Republic operetta acquired a certain bourgeois respectability, but by the 1920s the home-grown product, already losing ground to the Viennese and American invasions, had been submerged in a wave of ragtime.
In this sparkling account, Harding described the men and women who created French operetta and skilfully weaves their triumphs and their tragedies into an engaging panorama of the rise and fall of the genre.  First came the appropriately named Adam, a dauntless forerunner who cheerfully bankrupted himself with gigantic debts in the theatrical jungle of the 1840s.  Hervé, justly nicknamed 'the loony composer', took over from him and endowed the new form with his own brand of crazy irreverence.  He was succeeded by the flamboyant, irrepressible Offenbach, composer of a hundred-odd operettas, who, with superb flair, elevated the knockabout comedy of his predecessors into a recognisable genre.  The cripple Lecocq brought in a quieter, less outrageous flavour.  And then, in a late autumnal flowering, operetta found elegant champions in the sharp-tongued Messager and the suave Reynaldo Hahn, prince of the Belle Epoque and intimate friend of Marcel Proust.
In his vivid evocation of the age and its personalities, Dr Harding also reminds us of some unjustly neglected musicians and pays sensitive tribute to work that deserves to be heard again.  On the way he sketches delightfully sharp cameos of theatrical figures like domineering Hortense Schneider, the versatile Max Dearly, Yvonne Printemps and the inimitable Sacha Guitry, as well as many others whose names are familiar to all who love the French stage.  The first full-length treatment of the subject in English, this book will long remain a fascinating and authoritative one.