Nowadays, when someone accuses you of being “melodramatic,” it’s got a pejorative connotation, and usually means you’re acting in an overly emotional and hyperbolic way. But melodrama, which emerged during the French Revolution, was a rich and complicated theatrical genre. Now, the team behind the University of Warwick’s Staging Napoleonic Theatre project, which includes Dr. Katherine Astbury, Dr. Diane Tisdall, and Dr. Sarah Burdett, is working to both study and stage melodramas. They’ve already performed Roseliska, a unique piece written by French prisoners-of-war in England, and they’re preparing to stage La forteresse du Danube, one of the many hits written by Renè-Charles Guilbert de Pixerècourt, who claimed to have invented the genre. They joined us to talk about melodrama’s origins and how it worked onstage, as well as to demonstrate how music was an integral part of these spectacular plays.

Costume design for 1805 production of Pixérécourt's La forteresse du Danube. Image via Bibliotheque nationale de France.
The Staging Napoleonic Theatre team onstage at Portchester Castle. Photo via Staging Napoleonic Theatre.

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