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The Franconis on the stage of the Opera

The cavalry of the Olympic Circus, like that of Astley's in London, is regularly solicited to animate plays presented by the major theaters. The Franconis appeared at the Opera as early as 1810, in Persée and Andromède*. A letter from the Franconi brothers, addressed to the journalist Villenave, editor of the Annales politiques, morales et littéraires, shows that they intervened several times in 1817 at the Opéra to provide the cavalcades of Fernand Cortez.


This piece is one of the great successes of the Opera, regularly (re)programmed. Besides, with these letters, one understands how much the programs are random and can change the day before for the following day, which inevitably impacts the course of the evenings at the cirque Olympique, meaning that the Franconi need to have their devoted "place" in the newspaper upheld depending on what they will be abble to announce for their program of the day. 


Nearly ten years later, when a fire ravages their establishment and they are forced to turn to other scenes to end their season, they appear again at the Opera, during several representations. The first of these, on May 6, is dedicated to their profit and the takings reach 16 446 francs, the double or even the triple of the usual takings of the month of May for the Opera, sign of the affluence and of the success as much to support the two brothers in their ordeal as the play in itself. The Franconis appear in Fernand Cortez (May 6, 10, 15 and 21), in La Chasse du Jeune Henri (all performances), in Cendrillon (May 6) and in La Belle au Bois Dormant (May 17) as well as in Le Rossignol du Duc de Vendôme (May 12), which features equestrian tableaux*. 


In London, at the same time Andrew Ducrow was also invited to perform at Covent Garden, in November 1823, in Cortez or the Conquest of Mexico. Since the success of The Blood Red Knight, or the Fatal Bridge, presented in 1811 at Astley's, the London major theaters  have taken up equestrian theatricality in order to accentuate the effects of their orientalist dramas or those illustrating the imperialist conquests of Great Britain. In 1851, a document attests that Drury Lane even presented acrobatic exercises in a ring, illustrating how the success of equestrian acts influenced theatres' programs beyond the walls of the circus.

* Chaillou D., Napoléon et l'Opéra, Fayard, 2004, p. 287.

**AN.AJ13.145 : Décompte de la position revenant aux Sieurs Franconi, Ecuyers sur le produit des représentations auxquelles ils ont coopéré (du 6 mai au 21 mai 1826) et  Feuille de recette générale, 6 mai 1826, Représentation au bénéfice de MM. Franconi, Fernand Cortez et 2e acte de Cendrillon, 6 mai 1826.

Letters from the FRANCONI Brothers 

written to VILLENAVE, journalist aux Annales .

ADP.DE1 Villenave papers, box 18


Letter 1 - Undated

"We salute Mr. Villenave and pray to him as we are going to play shortly  Robert le Diable * desire to have us insert the attached note, however making the change that he deems suitable and obligatory to your most obliged, Franconi Brothers."



Letter 2 - May 27, 1817

Sir, As we are going to do the service at the Opera for Fernand Cortez, and as it often happens, as you know, that the piece announced the day before is not the one which is played the next day, we have agreed with the administration that we would expect, for the sending of our Bulletins private to the Journals, that it informed us of the spectacle fixed for the following day. But as they will not be able to warn us until the day before at six o'clock in the evening, we ask you to keep our place in your Journal, as our Bulletins cannot, in this case, reach you until eight o'clock. This delay will only take place on the eve of the days when Fernand Cortez will be given.

We demand this Complacency from you. The desire to be useful to the Royal Academy of Music forces us to this disturbance, to this very sacrifice: for we will be obliged to take a break from our theatre.

We have the honor to greet you with Consideration…Franconi Frères.



Letter 3 - October 4, 1817

We have the honor to greet Mr. Villenave and to send him our sincere thanks for the benevolent article that he was kind enough to devote to us, these marks of interest and his kindness guarantee us the interest he accepts to devote to our establishment. We dare to hope that he deigns to pursue whenever we will do our best to be agreeable to him and that he wishes to dispose of our servcies. Our eagerness will always respond to these kindnesses.

Please accept our greetings …Franconi Brothers.

*Pantomime presented for the first time at the Cirque Olympique, on November 23, 1815 and whose full title is  Robert the Devil or the Repentant Criminal .

Fernand Cortez

The Franconi in Fernand Cortez
Opera poster, May 6, 1826


Horse riding and major theaters in London

Ducrow and Drury Lane

French equestrian performers at Drury La
Poster St George and the dragon Ducrow a
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