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La Basoche is an opéra comique in three acts of 1890, with music by André Messager and a French libretto by Albert Carré.[1]



Messager's 1888 operetta Le mari de la reine at Bouffes-Parisiens was a disappointment, and the composer and his wife were struggling to afford even basic necessities until he found success with La Basoche.[2]

La Basoche was first performed at the Opéra Comique (Salle du Théâtre Lyrique, place du Châtelet), Paris, on 30 May 1890 and was initially given on 51 nights.[2] It was revived there up to the Second World War and given at least another 150 performances, with Jean Périer, André Baugé playing Clement Marot and Lucien Fugère repeating the role of the duke. Messager himself conducted the 1900, 1902 and 1919 productions at the Opéra Comique.[3] In 1908 the work also entered the repertoire of the Gaité Lyrique in Paris, the cast including Fernand Francell, and Fugère.

It was presented in London in 1891 in an English translation by Augustus Harris and Eugène Oudin at Richard D'Oyly Carte's Royal English Opera House, running from 3 November 1891 to 16 January 1892. Carré and Messager were present at the opening night and took curtain calls along with the conductor, François Cellier. Stage direction was by Hugh Moss, and the cast included David Bispham (alternating with Wallace Brownlow) as the Duke, Ben Davies (and Joseph O'Mara) as Clement Marot, Charles Kenningham as Jehan L'Eville, and John Le Hay as Guillot.[4] The success of La Basoche led Carte to produce Messager's Mirette in 1894.[5]

La Basoche was produced in New York at the Casino Theatre in a new translation in 1893, conducted by Gustave Kerker.[6] In April 1919 it was seen at the Théâtre Français in Montréal.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
30 May 1890
(Conductor: Jules Danbé)
Colette soprano Mme Molé-Truffier
Marie d’Angleterre soprano Lize Landouzy
Clement Marot baritone Gabriel Soulacroix
Le Duc de Longueville baritone Lucien Fugère
Léveillé tenor Ernest Carbonne
Louis XII tenor Maris
Guillot tenor[7] Barnolt
Roland bass Bernaert
Le chancelier tenor Thierry
L’ecuyer du roi baritone Troy
Le grand prevot, le veilleur de nuit baritone Lonati


The action takes place in Paris in 1514.


Act 1

Programme for the first London production, 1891

A square near the Châtelet, on the right the tavern du Plat d’Etain. The day of the election of the king of the basochians. The poet Clément Marot puts himself forward against the pedant Roland (in a poem "Oui, de rimes je fais moisson"). As the king of the basochians is required to be a bachelor, he hides the existence of a wife, Colette, whom he has left behind in Chevreuse. When she arrives in Paris he pretends not to know her - but tells her secretly that he will rejoin her soon. She gets herself taken on at the tavern, where the next day the widowed Louis XII will receive his new young wife, Mary of England, the sister of Henry VIII. The same Mary now arrives incognito, disguised as a Norman, accompanied by the Duc de Longueville. When the procession of the king of the Basoche comes along, Colette takes Marot to be the real king, while Mary thinks that the man is her husband.

Act II

Evening – a large room in the Plat d’Etain tavern.
While clerks party, and Roland hope to unmask Marot and his wife, Colette, at work, dreams of her future life as a queen. In a duet, both Marie and Colette declare their love for the 'king'. The Duke returns from the royal palace where he has announced the arrival of Mary, who sends him off to request the 'king' attend her for dinner, and then goes off to get ready to receive him. Marot reaffirms his love for Colette, but Mary returns and sees the one she thinks is to be her husband; Colette begins to serve them dinner.

Roland’s party burst in to reveal Marot’s existing marriage, but it is Mary who says that she is the wife of the king and the duke who in turn says that he is Mary’s wife. After everyone else has left, the king’s entourage arrive – only for Colette to receive them, and be taken to the Hôtel des Tournelles.


The Hotel de Tournelles
Louis XII greets Colette, who cannot believe that the old man is her husband. Believing that he has been deceived, the King decides to send Longueville and Colette to England; alone, the duke thinks that the young woman loves him. The cortege of the Basoche passes by the palace, and the two women realise who their 'king' was. Colette consoles herself with the thought that she will have Clément back, Marie disappointed, finding the false king more charming than the real one.

The duke suddenly realizes what has happened, and wants Marot arrested, but it is Roland, now the basoche king, who is taken. Convinced that he will hang, Marot makes his farewell, but he is pardoned by Louis, and leaves Paris with Colette, while Louis marries Marie.[8]


Various extracts were recorded in during the 1920s and 30s (including some by Fugère). A complete French radio broadcast of July 1960, with Nadine Sautereau, Camille Maurane, Irene Jaumillot and Louis Noguera, conducted by Tony Aubin, was subsequently issued on CD. Extended excerpts were recorded in 1961, featuring Liliane Berton, Nicole Broissin, Henri Legay and Michel Dens, conducted by Jacques Pernoo.


  1. ^ Wagstaff J. Andre Messager. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  2. ^ a b "La Basoche", the Opérette site of l'Académie Nationale de l'Opérette (ANAO) 11 October 2008 (French language)
  3. ^ Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900-1950). André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  4. ^ The Times, 3 November 1891, p. 6; and 16 January 1892, p. 6
  5. ^ Traubner, Richard. Operetta: a theatrical history, p. 223, 2nd edition, London: Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-96641-8
  6. ^ New York Times 23 February 1893, p. 8
  7. ^ In fact designated as 'trial' after the singer Antoine Trial
  8. ^ Morin P. Hommage à André Messager. Notes for Cascavelle CD Vel 3074, 2003.


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