French librettist Etienne de Jouy (1764–1846) is best known today as the main author of the libretto for Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. He wrote a number of other librettos for the Paris Opéra, including Spontini’s La Vestale (1807) and Fernand Cortez (1809).
Jouy’s politically colourful career began when he joined the army at the age of 16. He spent time in French Guyana and India before returning home for the French Revolution. Fighting for Revolutionary forces, he was almost captured in 1793 and moved to Switzerland in exile. His writing career began the following year after the end of the Terror. La Vestale, his first grand opera, was a great success. His subsequent operas bear traces of his changing political allegiances: while Fernand Cortez was intended to appeal to Napoleon, his final Spontini collaboration, Pélage (1814), was written to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy. His subsequent reversion to support for Napoleon during the Hundred Days earned him the title of Commissaire Impériale of the Opéra-Comique, but ensured his fall from favour once the monarchy returned.
Despite holding a low opinion of the ‘selfish, dry and inhospitable’ Swiss since his stay there in 1793, Jouy’s most enduring success glorified the people of this country. Guillaume Tell (1829) was Jouy’s second collaboration with Rossini, after adapting Mosè in Egitto for Paris in 1827 as Moïse et Pharaon. He also wrote librettos for operas by Etienne Méhul and Luigi Cherubini.