A young singer is ensnared by intrigue at the Sun King’s court.
Émilie Jolicoeur, the daughter of a luthier, is 15 when she and her phenomenal soprano are noticed by (real-life) composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier during a visit to her father’s Paris atelier. Charpentier begins teaching her in his studio at the grand house of his patroness, the Duchesse de Guise. Meanwhile, the duchess’s godson, impoverished aristocrat Comte de St. Paul, seeks to exploit the enmity between Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV’s current mistress, and fête-pooper Madame de Maintenon, 17th-century Versailles’ answer to Billy Sunday. When he hears Émilie sing at his godmother’s soirée, St. Paul sees his ticket out of debt. He conspires with Madame de Maintenon to spirit Émilie to Versailles. They plan to introduce the songbird at court and eventually to the king’s bed; with the help of some time-release poison, the assignation will be enough to put Louis off whoopie in general and Montespan in particular. Montespan, no fool, makes arrangements to have the now 16-year-old Émilie re-abducted after her performance as Alceste in an opera by Lully, Charpentier’s archrival. The re-abductor will be Charpentier, Émilie’s heartthrob. Maintenon is relieved to hear this, because poisoning ingénues is against her religion. Émilie, having captivated the king as Alceste, receives a jeweled brooch and an invitation to present herself at the royal chambers around midnight. Hedging her bets, Maintenon sends her servant François to Émilie’s room with the killer claret. Beset by pre-re-abduction misgivings, Émilie is teetering on her windowsill when...Faked death, a new identity, a secret marriage, a miscarriage, a duel and a re-re-abduction follow, amid a dizzying array of purloined letters, spies and contretemps. Even Guise’s maid, Sophie, gets her own subplot.
The serpentine and confusing plot aside, musicologist Dunlap’s first offers a vivid, entertaining panorama of the period.