Thursday, April 14, 2016

April 14

Too preppy for words:

Jean-Baptiste de Lully

Giovanni Battisti Lulli (1632-1687) was born in Florence, the son of Italian peasants, who had no idea their son would grow up to become a best friend of Louis XIV, king of France. Lully rose from obscurity to the heights of influence in European music (especially French opera), but his career was thwarted by homosexual scandal. He became very wealthy and brazenly engaged in homosexual affairs, but kept a wife, and even a mistress, as "cover".

Lulli was brought to France at age 14 as an Italian tutor for Louis XIV's cousin Anne-Marie Louise d'Orléans, "La Grande Mademoiselle." He was also put to work as a servant in the royal kitchen. His musical, dancing and acting abilities soon distinguished him, however, and after the exile of Anne-Marie in 1652, he entered the king's service at age 20. He and the king danced in court entertainments, establishing a privileged relationship that led to the musician's quick advancement. In short order the king regarded Lully as one of his few true friends, indispensable in providing court entertainments.

Within 10 years Giovanni Battisti Lulli became a French citizen, thereafter known as Jean-Baptiste de Lully. He was appointed Master of the King's Music, and the following year married the daughter of a prominent singer/composer at the French court. Lully raised six children, and he appeared to have been a good father and provider, in spite of numerous extramarital activities with both men and women. In particular, Lully seemed unable to keep his hands off the handsome young men he kept in his household, ostensibly as “students.”

Lully is considered the founder of French opera (as distinct from Italian-style opera), but perhaps his biggest claim to fame is the invention of ballet. Since Louis XIV loved to dance, and evidently was good at it, the two formed a close friendship.

Lully collaborated with Molière, the great French dramatist, in creating popular plays with musical interludes and ballets. When the two fell out, Lully used his influence to prevent Molière from using music in his later works. By the age of 40 Lully staged his first opera, and 14 more followed. They established the rules for French opera for decades to come, particularly the inclusion of ballets in operatic productions.

Lully was ruthless in his pursuit of power and used his influence with the king to eliminate potential rivals, who were too happy to spread stories concerning Lully’s sexual exploits. However, Lully was usually discreet enough that the king overlooked his salacious activities. In 1681 Lully was made a court secretary to the king and given a noble title, thus able to use the moniker "de Lully".

OK - it's time for a reward if you made it this far. The rest of this post will make strong emphasis on the male posterior regions, all of it ingeniously related to Lully.

Unfortunately, at the age of 53 Lully's influence with the king evaporated when he was caught in a scandalous affair with Brunet, a very young male "music page" being trained in the royal service and living in Lully’s household. Brunet was exceptionally handsome – and known for the appeal of his shapely back side. Although he was not prosecuted, Lully was forced to break off the relationship, and he lost his standing at court. Ultimately the king had to abandon him as a friend, and two years later Lully was dead.

A ditty was sung about this time, and it goes like this:

One day Cupid said to his mother,
“Why am I not wearing any clothes? 
If Lully sees me naked,
My backside will be lost.”

Well, it rhymed in French: “sa mère” (his mother) with “derrière” (backside).

Brunet was carted off to a monastery, where he was regularly beaten by the monks. He received more lenient treatment, however, in exchange for coughing up names of other homosexuals, especially when one of the names he divulged was the son of the chief of police.

It seems this inspired another little ditty:

Monsieur de Lully is all worked up
To see his little Brunet beaten up.
He’s jealous that a Priest
Now gets to sample Brunet’s derrière
(if you get my meaning).

It all rhymes in French, trust me.

Although homosexual activity was a capital offense in seventeenth-century France, a large number of the nobility at Versailles, including the king's brother Philippe*, formed a homosexual subculture, and Lully was in the thick of it. While the king disapproved of homosexuality, he loved his brother and was unwilling to exile, or otherwise punish, these nobles. At the same time, pressure was exerted by Louis's wife, Madame de Maintenon, and her priest to rid the court of homosexuals.

*Philippe I (Duke of Orléans) was a ferocious warrior and an enthusiastic and stylish drag queen. He rode into battle wearing women's dresses, high heels, lipstick and makeup.  I'm not kidding.

On January 8, 1687, Lully was conducting a Te Deum in honor of the king’s recent recovery from illness. He was beating time by banging a long staff against the floor (as was the common practice at the time before hand-held batons became the norm), when he struck his toe, creating an abscess. The wound turned gangrenous, but Lully refused to have his toe amputated, and the gangrene spread, resulting in his death three months later. He died an extremely rich man, the owner of five Parisian houses, two country estates and vast sums of cash. All three of his sons – Louis Lully, Jean-Baptiste Lully fils and Jean-Louis Lully – also had musical careers at the French court.

The best butt in Early Music performances these days:

Even if you don’t fancy this music, hit the pause button and have a lingering look at the male singer’s posterior at the 1:19 mark (screen capture above). For the record the tenor performing the role of Perseus (son of Zeus) here is Cyril Auvity (above). I know of few images more likely to result in converts to French Baroque opera, an acquired taste, in my opinion. Note: the kind director has Persée (Perseus) hold this enticing pose for a full 23 seconds. The frontal pose (my God, those tights are revealing) at the 3:31 mark satifies, as well. By the way, Auvity is French Early Music’s “It-Boy" these days. I like the duet singing at the 4:19 mark, but you won’t be interested in that. Nevertheless, check it out – go for some high-brow voyeurism!

One of the comments about this YouTube video:
“le ténor chante très bien – dispose également d'un beau cul”
(the tenor sings very well – equally disposed of a cute butt).


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