Gastronomy and opera. An approach from an “unconventional” source


M. Manola

Assistant Professor. Department of Tourism Management. University of West Attica.

G. Palanta

Holder of a Master’s degree in Theatre Studies




The purpose of this paper is to explore less obvious aspects of the relationship between gastronomy and opera. It is a fact that our age promotes the image and concept of the master chef or confectioner and this is facilitated even more thanks to social media. During the 19th century, the role of promoting the chef's image was mainly taken on by the press and literature. The chef and confectioner, in their effort to establish themselves in a changing society after the French Revolution, were trying to prove that their art is not inferior to other arts.

The indexing of the corpus of a French newspaper published in the late 19th century, which is mainly aimed at confectioners, is an attempt to prove how lyrical theatre and some of its brilliant contributors were treated - as a factor conducive to the consolidation of the "dignity" of the confectioners’ profession.

Also, in this said corpus, names of dishes, bearing the titles of opera, operetta, and / or their contributors, will be identified, as a small contribution to the nomenclature of gastronomy.

Keywords: gastronomy, opera, operetta, 19th century, gastronomic press, confectionery nomenclature.




Figure 1: Le Journal des Confiseurs-Patissiers.



  1. Introduction

There are many ways in which one could approach the subject of "gastronomy and opera": lyric plays with scenes related to the preparation, consumption or even the effect of food and drink, composers directly related to gastronomy (e.g. Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi), chef Jason Bond's project “food-opéra” in collaboration with artist Ben Houge and many similar proposals, as part of the Food Opera, the gastronomic opera presented in Barcelona in 2013 and later in cinemas entitled El somni (una opera en dotze plats, un banquet en dotze actes, with the cooking contribution of the Roca brothers of the restaurant El Celler de Can Roca), the ever-increasing presentation of spectacles that combine opera listening with the consumption of food and / or drink, the composition of lyric plays on gastronomy[1], the retrospect in the precursory form of the above (Piotrowska, 2015) in the music that accompanied the symposiums of ancient Greece and in Tafelmusik (Culinary music) of the 16th and 17th century.

The approach that will be the subject of this paper falls more under the field of lexicography and the history of music. It concerns the presence of the lyric theatre in a French confectionery newspaper. This will be done through the recording of sweets that have titles related to opera (or operetta), a fairly common practice mainly in the 19th century and early 20th, as well as through the promotion of articles related to this topic.


2. French gastronomic press and 19th century

Undoubtedly, the French Revolution was a key event in the field of gastronomy. Until then, "high cuisine" was mainly a matter for the French Court, and "culinary art" was a means of political influence. After the Revolution, many chefs of aristocratic houses are forced to lose their jobs, as their bosses are expatriated or beheaded. The abolition of the powerful trade unions facilitated their decision to open their own restaurants, and thus make haute cuisine more accessible (Spang, 2005).

Allart and Visse (2016) report that the gastronomic press appears in the early 19th century and is based on three changes:

On the creation of the restaurant, through which the culinary critique is formed, in the promotion of the profession of the cook, which leads to the coding of the recipes, and finally, to the development of a gastronomic literature. Bertrand, Cantau and Wibault (2019), after a statistical study in 379 titles of periodicals on gastronomy, which were published between the 17th and the beginning of the 20th century and which are in the National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), concluded that these publications were aimed at three categories of readers: housewives, professionals in the relevant fields and, finally, gourmets - a kind of audience that expresses the gastronomic, literary and artistic current affairs of Paris. The International Expositions (Expositions universelles) as well as the local cooking exhibitions "tend to redefine the status of the chef in the eyes of society by raising him to the level of the artist" (Bertrand, Cantau and Wibault, 2019). And let's not forget the relevant saying of the great French chef Antonin Carême (1784-1833): "The arts are five: And a branch of architecture is confectionery." (Antypa, 2018, p.34).


  1. Nomenclature of dishes and 19th century

The advent of restaurants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries made it imperative to write dish names on their catalogues. Due to the ever-increasing competition, even infamous cooks and confectioners created their own dishes in order to stand out and it is obvious that they had to name them. The first menu form appeared in French restaurants in 1770. (Manola, M. & Koufadakis, S., 2020). Faivre (2012) informs us about the recommendation by the famous French gastronome Grimod de la Reynière of a tasting committee ("jury de dégustateurs"), which, with great formality, tastes dishes and food items and then gives them imaginative names. The author adds that the emergence of gastronomic literature in the early 19th century also prompted the great chefs to give a name to their dishes, thus consolidating their status as creators / artists in the field of gastronomy. Often the names they choose either emphasize the exotic element, or are toponyms or names of famous people, or are also associated with military victories. Indicative is the case of Antonin Carême: through his creations (e.g. potage Lamartine, potage Victor Hugo) he chooses to pay tribute to great personalities, sages, artists (Bonnet, 1977). Faivre (2012) also notes that when a dish is baptised its status changes, making it pass from the kitchen area to the gastronomy area.


  1. The indexing

The indexing focuses on two axes:

A) In the names of desserts that have titles related to opera and operetta. This material is taken from the column: "Collection of recipes and procedures".

B) In various other articles and tributes which, directly or indirectly, contain names of opera contributors.

The indexing focused exclusively on lyric theatre and not on prose theatre.

The full title of the newspaper is: Le Journal des confiseurs, pâtissiers, chocolatiers, fabricants de biscuits, confitures, fruits confits, sirops, liqueurs, conserves. Organe mensuel, technique, professionnel pour ces industries et celles qui s’y rattachent (It could be translated as : The Journal of confectioners, patissiers, chocolatiers, biscuit manufacturers, marmalades, fruit syrups, syrups, liqueurs, canned food. Monthly technical, professional body for these arts and those subject to them.)

The digitized form of the material in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF Gallica) includes a total of 67 sheets (7 years available). It covers the dates: 1890 (5 sheets), 1891 (11 sheets), 1892-1895 (12 sheets per year) and 1896 (3 sheets).

Director: F. Barthélemy (Member of the Académie de Cuisine de Paris).

The newspaper was a monthly circular (periodical).

The introductory note of the 1st sheet (1/9/1890), entitled "Notre Journal: son programme, son but, son utilité" (Our newspaper: its program, its usefulness, its purpose), states, among other things, that French confectionery is important not only for France, which forced foreign competitors (rivaux) to pay tribute to it too. It is emphasized that in order to maintain this superiority, confectioners are obliged to constantly strive towards perfection, which is achieved only with constant and inspired research as well as with noble competition. However, this course of action lacks a professional body. The ambition of this newspaper is to fill this gap by contributing to the preservation of national superiority and by fighting foreign competition through the necessary professional, commercial and scientific knowledge that it will transmit. "

The structure of the newspaper is as follows:

1. Professional chronicle

2. Commercial note

3. Collection of recipes and preparations

4. The Workshop

5. Scientific discussion

6. Industrial Inspection

7. Legal and judicial records

8. The Correspondence

9. Free Tribune

10. Biography and Bibliography


  1.  Recipes:

The total number of recipes in the digitized corpus is 727. Their names vary. Some give emphasis to the material, the way it is processed, others to the origin (whether French or from other countries, often exotic), others are related to historical figures or important confectioners and others to art in various forms. There are also some whose title origin is unknown. For all the operas we drew the  information from the Association "L'Art Lyrique Français" whose plentiful material focuses on the history of the classical song in France, especially during the Second French Empire (1852-1870) until the French Third Republic (1870- 1940).

  1. Sheet no. 2 (1/10/1890 p. 11)

 Recipe no. 8. Title: L’Ascanio (bonbons fins).

The opera: Αscanio. A five-act Grand-opéra by Saint-Saëns (composition 1888-1889), libretto by Louis Gallet, based on the drama by Paul Meurice Benvenuto Cellini (1852). It premiered at the Académie Royale de Musique (the consequent Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris) on 21/3/1890.

  1. Sheet no. 7 (1/3/1891, pp. 51-52) 

Recipe no. 72. Title: Dame Blanche (Glace)

The opera: La Dame blanche. Comedy opera in three acts, to music by François-Adrien Boieldieu and libretto by Eugène Scribe, influenced by the novels of Walter Scott Guy Maenering and The Monastery. First performance : Opéra-Comique (salle Feydeau) on 10/12/1825. The play was a great success.

  1. Sheet no. 18 (1/2/1892, p. 193)

Recipe no. 171. Title: Rip-Rip (bonbon-chocolat).

Editor: J. Morard

The opera: Rip. Comic opera in three acts, to music by Robert Planquette and libretto by Henri Brougham Farnie, based on Rip Van Winckle by Washington Irving.

First presentation in London (Comedy Theater, 14/10/1882).

The presentation in French (Follies Dramatiques, Paris, 11/11/1884) was libretto by Henri Meilhac, Philippe Gille and Henri Brougham Farnie. The play was a great success and that is why it remained in the repertoire of French lyric scenes for many years. The Académie Nationale de l’Opérette (ANAO), (1971) informs us that the title of the English staging was Rip Van Winkle, the French Rip Rip (hence the name of the dessert). The play was staged in a new version in 1894 at the Théâtre de la Gaité, Paris, under the title Rip.

  1. Sheet no. 35 (1/7/1893, p. 71)

Recipe no. 371. Title: Glace Miss Helyett (glaces)

Editor: Léon Roty

The operetta: Miss Helyett. Operetta in 3 acts by Edmond Audran and libretto by Maxime Boucheron. First performance in Paris (Bouffes-Parisiens, 12/11/1890). The shows have been a huge success.

  1. Figure 2: The Miss Helyett Operetta Poster.
  1. Sheet no. 44 (10/4/1894, pp. 48-49)

Recipe no. 487. Title: Bombe Rigoletto (glace)

Editors: P. Lacam και Charabot (Le Glacier classique)

The opera: Rigoletto. Italian opera in a preface and three acts. Music: Giuseppe Verdi, libretto: Francesco-Maria Piave, based on the historical drama by Victor Hugo Le Roi s'amuse. French version: Edouard Duprez.

First performance: Italy, Teatro La Fenice (11/3/1851).

First performance in Paris: Théâtre des Italiens (19/1/1857).

First performance in French in Paris: Théâtre-Lyrique (place du Châtelet) (23/12/1863).

First performance of the whole play at the Théâtre de l’Opéra (Palais Garnier) (27/2/1885).

  1. Sheet no. 45 (10/5/1894, p. 60)

Recipe no. 493: Le Diable Rose (entremets glacé). Perrier-Robert A. (2012) attributes this dessert to the famous Parisian confectioner, Chiboust.

Editor: A. Lagarde

The operetta: Le Diable Rose. One-act operetta in music by Mlle Hermine Déjazet and lyrics by MM. Pol Munier and Ed. Fournier. It was performed at the Déjajet Theater in November 1859.

  1. Sheet no. 46 (15/6/1894, p. 74)

Recipe no. 516. Title: Le Nélusko (entremets glacé)

Editor: Α. Lagarde

The opera: LAfricaine. This is the name of a role (slave) in Giacomo Meyerbeer's five-act opera L’Africaine, in an Eugène Scribe libretto. First presentation: Académie Royale de Musique (Opéra) (Salle Le Peletier, 28/4/1865). According to Warrack and West (1997) it was a huge success.

  1. Sheet no. 64 (12/1895, p. 174)

Recipe no. 685. Title: Glaces Gwendoline

Editor: Albert Chevallier

The opera: Gwendoline. Opera in two acts. Music: Alain Chabrier, libretto: Catulle Mendès. First performance: Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels (10/4/1886). First performance in France: Grand Théâtre de Lyon, Lyon (19/4/1893). First performance in Paris: Théâtre de l'Opéra (Palais Garnier) 27/12/1893.

The names of some desserts that could be related to operas but which we did not include in the list were also identified:

a) Figaro: most likely the name refers to the well-known play Le mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais, which, as Lagarde and Michard (1985) mention, was made public in 1784, and not to operas that bear the name Figaro, such as the opera by Mozart Le nozze di Figaro (in libretto by Da Ponte) or the pasticcio Figaro ou le Jour des noces, with music by Mozart and Rossini adapted by Felice Blagini, which was staged at the Théâtre des Nouveautés on 16/8/1827 (Carter, 1987).

b) Tosca: this is not Puccini's famous opera (which premiered later, in 1900), but Sardou's play (premiere: 1887).

c) le Gil-Blas: it is not certain whether the name refers to the novel Gil Blas (LHistoire de Gil Blas de Santillane) written by Lesage between 1715-1735 (Lagarde and Michard)  or the homonymous opera by Théophile Semet in libretto by Michel Carré και Jules Barbier, which was staged at the Théâtre-Lyrique (boulevard du Temple) on 23/8/1860.

d) Cléopâtre: although three homonymous operas were discovered that were performed before 1900, the desserts’ creator may have wanted to dedicate it to the well-known historical figure.

 e) Zaïre: two operas in two acts were found with this title, one in music by Paul Véronge de La Nyx and libretto by Edouard Blau and Louis Besson (First performance: Palais Garnier (Opéra de Paris) on 5/28/1890) and the opera Zaïre, with music by Charles Lefebvre and poetry by Paul Collin. (Lille Municipal Theater, 3/12/1887). However, it is possible that the name of the dessert refers to the tragedy of Voltaire Zaïre (1732).


B) Other articles related to lyric theatre

  1. Sheet no. 20 (1/4/1892, p. 226)

Title: Réception de M. Lacam à l’Académie de Cuisine de Paris (Reception of M. Lacam at the Cooking Academy of Paris)

The speech of the Vice President of the said Academy L. Hanni (11/1/1892) is written down. In the introduction of his speech, he mentions those who were encouraging the Academy. Among them are Victor Hugo and Monselet[2].

  1. Sheet no. 22 (1/6/1892 p. 251)

Title: La confiserie politique du “Figaro” (The political confectionary of “Figaro”)

Reproduction from Albert Millaud's[3] political satire entitled Voeux d’un Confiseur, published in the newspaper Figaro.

4. Sheet no. 25 (1/9/1892, pp. 297-300)

Title: Jules Gouffé

Biography of the outstanding author of cookbooks Jules Gouffé by Pierre Lacam. A letter from Monselet (lettre gourmande) to Gouffé is included. The biography is completed on sheet no. 26 (p. 310).

5. Sheet no. 31 (1/3/1893, p. 25)

Title: Exposition-Concours Culinaire et de l’Alimentation organisée par les délégués de toutes les sociétés de l’alimentation sur l’initiative de l’Académie de la Cuisine (16-26/2/1893) (Exhibition-Competition of Cooking and Nutrition organized by the representatives of all food companies on the initiative of the Cooking Academy.)

The confectionery sculpture with the theme: Théâtre National de l’Opéra (pièce artistique en glace royale) by H. Magnolon won the 1st prize, a medal of the Ministry of Commerce and an honorary diploma.

6. Sheet no. 32 (1/4/1893 p. 38)

Title: La statuette de Lulli. Modélée par M. Bourgoin-Fichaux. (The Lulli statuette by M. Bourgoin-Fichaux)

Editor: P. Lacam

Occasioned by the statue of Lulli presented at the Cooking Exhibition of

1893, Lacam refers to musicians who grew up in a confectionery environment (Lulli, Favart, Méhul, Coquelin). He believes that the work of confectioners in the workshop (e.g. beating eggs, sifting, etc.) produces music. He adds that he has seen many confectioners working while reciting plays they had watched the day before, and concludes that their profession is artistic as they even produce architecture from sugar (e.g. temples, the Opéra building presented at the Exhibition) without having studied for 4-5 years to learn something like that. He concludes his text with a short biography of Jean-Baptiste Lulli.

7. Sheet no. 33 (1/5/1893, p. 47)

Title: Grand concert suivi de bal. Dans les salons de la Maison Bonvalet (Great concert followed by dance. In the lounges of the Bonvalet house.)

The organization of a big concert followed by dance (10/5/1893) is announced. It is organized by the trade union committee of Parisian confectioners (Chambre syndicale des ouvriers confiseurs de Paris) in favour of the Aid Fund and will be attended by many lyric artists.

8. Sheet no. 43 (10/3/1894, p. 39)

Title: Lulli

Editor: P. Lacam


Figure 3: A sketch of the Lulli statuette (F. Barthélemy)

Pierre Lacam refers to the sculpture presented by Bourgoin at the Cooking Exhibition. The information given is that this is an exact copy of Gaudez's sculpture. The sculpture shows young Lulli playing the violin wearing his apron and hat, just as he did in front of the Mademoiselle de Montpensier. Although, because this specific hat dates to 1823 (thanks to Carême and his assistant, J. Gouffé), Bourgoin re-introduced Lulli with the upright (historically) hat.

9. Issue 44 (10/4/1894, pp. 41-42)

Title: Lulli. Statuette sculptée dans un pain de sucre. Par M. Bourgoin-Fichaux (Statue carved in sugar bread. By M. Bourgoin-Fichaux)

Editor: F. Barthélemy

The author praises Bourgoin (see sht. 23) for his work and urges young confectioners to practice making such works of art. A sketch of this sculpture is given.

10. Sheet no. 44 (10/4/1894, pp. 42-43)

Title: Lulli (Jean-Baptiste)

Editor: Pierre Lacam

In his article on Jean-Baptiste Lulli, Lacam emphasizes the fact that at the age of 10 he moved from Italy to France and began working as an assistant chef in the kitchens of his cousin Louis XIV, Mademoiselle de Montpensier. At the same time, he improvised with the violin he had taken with him from his home in Florence. The text ends with a reference to another Italian who was "adopted" by France: Rossini. In footnote number 2 he lists the names of celebrities of the time with confectionery origins (Favart, Méhul, Coquelin brothers, Baretta, Brissot).

11. Sheet no. 67 (3/1896 pp. 35-36)

Title: Favart et Rue Favart (Favart και Favart road.)

Editor: P. Lacam

A tribute to the confectioner Favart and his son, the famous writer, composer and librettist Charles-Simon Favart.

References to the French composer Jean-Baptiste Lulli (Florence, 1632 – Paris, 1687) are common in the above articles. According to Warrack and West, (1997) this is undoubtedly the composer who established French opera with his work – within and outside the borders. Lacam also mentions Charles-Simon Favart (1710-1792). Mancini and Rouveroux (1986) inform us that this author, librettist, and impresario, was directly connected with the creation of the French opéra-comique. His father was a well-known confectioner. Nothing similar has been confirmed for the father of the composer of "Grand-opéra" Etienne-Nicolas Méhul.



If we consider the fact that every kind of creation reflects its time, the names of dishes that we found in the newspaper reflect the clear preference of the authors for titles related to French opera and operetta. The only Italian opera is Rigoletto (which in turn comes from the work of Victor Hugo). Most operas (except for Rigoletto, Dame Blanche, Africaine and less of Miss Helyett) are now unknown to the people at large - as are the desserts that got their name. It is indicative that in the 2006 edition of Larousse des desserts only the "Pêches dame blanche" (with lowercase initials) are kept as a dessert name - although the preparation is different. However, this naming is a reflection of the success of these lyric plays at the time.

The effort of the newspaper editors to link their art to the rest of the arts is evident - as well as the concern for the promotion of their profession, through the constant reminder of prominent artists from the arts and the promotion of artists whose parents worked in the catering industry.

It is interesting that we drew so much information from a newspaper that is not about opera, but about confectionery. In conclusion, we believe that it is useful to "experiment" with unexpected research material. The results may be surprising.




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[1] E.g. Bon appétit by Lee Hoiby, at the Athens Concert Hall, 17/3/2016, from the opera team The Medium Project and with the participation of the pastry chef Stelios Parliaros. Music curation: Andeas Tselikas.

[2] Charles Monselet (1825-1888). One of the first gastronomic chroniclers in France, a poet and writer of novels, plays and librettos of comedy operas.

[3] Albert Millaud (1844-1892). Journalist at Figaro, author and librettist. Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF).