Episode: Poulenc's "Model Animals"


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Poulenc's "Model Animals"
Just about ANY time is a good time to be in Paris, but chances are, given your druthers, you wouldn’t have chosen to be there in 1942. The city was occupied by German troops, and World War II had several more dismal years to grind on. But if you WERE in Paris on today’s date in 1942, you could have visited the Paris Opera for the premiere of a new ballet by the French composer Francis Poulenc called “Les Animaux modeles” or “The Model Animals,” with a scenario based on animal fables by the French writer La Fontaine. Some 20 years earlier, in happier times, Poulenc had made his name with another one-act ballet. That 1924 work was titled “Les biches” or “The Does” and was written for the Ballets Russes of Monte Carlo. That work’s scenario described the flirtations and seductions of some bright young things at a house party in the country. “Everything was simple and carefree, sunshine and good humor,” as Poulenc himself put it. Not surprisingly, Poulenc’s 1942 ballet was a darker, often grimmer affair, expressing perhaps the quiet desperation of the German occupation, mingled with a fervent hope for better days to come.

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