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Alphonse Royer

Biography

Alphonse Royer (1803–75) was a novelist, playwright, opera librettist and theatre manager. He is best known today as the joint author (with the Belgian playwright and poet Gustave Vaëz) of the librettos for Donizetti’s L’Ange de Nisida and its better-known revision La Favorite, and for Verdi’s Jérusalem.

Royer grew up in Paris. He briefly studied law, travelled in Italy and in the Middle East and made his literary debuts with the novel Les Mauvais Garçons and the play Henry V et ses compagnons, both historical works. He went on to write several more novels and plays, most of the latter (which ranged from serious dramas to vaudeville) in collaboration with Gustave Vaëz. Vaëz was also his collaborator on several original opera librettos and on three adaptations of Italian librettos: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (as Lucie di Lammermoor) and Don Pasquale, and Rossini’s Otello. Royer was also the director of Paris’s Théâtre de l’Odéon (1853–6) and of the Paris Opéra (1856–62), overseeing the disastrous Paris premiere of Wagner’s Tannhäuser (1861). He spent his last years writing a six-volume history of the Opéra, and translating plays by Italian and Spanish authors including Carlo Gozzi, Cervantes and Tirso de Molina.

Royer’s travels in the Middle East gained him a reputation as an orientalist. He wrote a biography of Mahmud II, the 30th Ottoman Sultan, and hosted popular ‘oriental’ literary salons at which guests were offered Turkish pipes and Turkish coffee.