chapter  6
45 Pages

The Royall Academy of Musick, 1673–75

The centrality, from 1666, of Louis Grabu to the largest and most important component of the royal musical establishment-not to mention the special consideration afforded to Claude des Granges after 1668-may be read as both a symptom and a cause of the seeming lack of genuine enthusiasm for imported through-composed opera in the early years of the Restoration. Prior to 1669, there was no such thing as French opera, and so Charles II᾿s interest in Gallic music could have had little or nothing to do with opera per se.1 In the meantime, the expertise of the Italians was for the most part segregated into specialized domains, such as the Queen’s Chapel and the ongoing (but ultimately unsuccessful) schemes that Thomas Killigrew was hatching out at the periphery of the court. Beginning in around 1673, however, there was a significant shift that saw a new surge of interest in operatic production and performance. This shift was at least partly political in origin, emanating from a complex of issues concerning religion and the royal succession that would ultimately flare up most prominently in the “Exclusion Crisis” at the end of the decade, and would exacerbate the concerns that led to the “Glorious Revolution” ten years thereafter. Three political events can be considered to be of special importance to the reintroduction of opera into England, as well as to broader developments in court cultural production at this time:2 the passage of the Test Act (25 Car. II, cap. 2), which required that all civil and military officers and servants of the royal household formally abjure Roman Catholic loyalties and practices by the end of Trinity term (8 July) 1673 or face draconian legal sanctions; the consequent open acknowledgement of his Catholicism by Charles’s brother and heir James, Duke of York, who declined to receive communion at Anglican services on Easter 1673 and resigned his post as Lord High Admiral in

1 For the early history of operatic performances in France, which were fundamentally Italian in character, see Neal Zaslaw, “The First Opera in Paris: A Study in the Politics of Art,” in John Hajdu Heyer, ed., Jean-Baptiste Lully and the Music of the French Baroque (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 7-23.