Pleasures and Pastimes of the Bourgeoisie


The Opéra and Social Status
~ Pre -revolution

~Fashion in Les Mis

~Rise in Popularity
~Economic and Social Symbolism
~Representation in Les Mis

Gardens ~17th Century ~18th Century ~19th Century ~Versailles

Gambling ~Pre-Revolutionary ~Cafés & Cercles

Opéra & Theatre
~The Revolution
~Social Status
~Les Misérables

Etiquette ~Promenade ~Dances ~Dinner ~Casinos and Salons

Bibliography ~Fashion ~Etiquette ~Restaurants ~Opéra ~Picture Bibliography



The Opéra was a place for the bourgeoisie to show off their wealth and high status.

2eme Loge d'un Theátre. (English title: Second Box of a Theatre) Monnier. c. 1830.

None of the audience members in this scene are looking in the same direction. None are paying attention to the stage: they are wrapt up in conversation, or surveying the rest of the audience for people they might know.


In the early ninteenth century, "Opéra had again acquired the aura of wealth and prestige that had enveloped the institution for most of the 18th century." (Johnson 168) During the revolution, the Opéra had been seen as a vehicle for aristocratic principles and had been reformed in the image of the evolving state. This "aura of wealth" had been revived by the new bourgeoisie of the post-revolution. Their aim was to imitate nobility, but not to replace it: they desired to create a world as luxurious as that of the aristocracy, with the morals and ethics of the bourgeois. And so the Opéra became a social tool of the bourgeois.

Opéra was an undoubtedly social event: people went to see other people, and to discuss the day's gossip and news. Few, if any, went for the music or drama. Indeed, in his book Listening in Paris, James Johnson states that, "to the majority of spectators at the Opéra ... the chief difference between a chorus and a solo was how loudly they could talk." (170) This statement is reinforced by the lithograph at the top of this page: no one is watching the show, and indeed, if asked in which direction the stage lies in respect to the people in the picture, the observer could not guess.

One's social status was seen in where one sat in the building. The true music lovers sat directly behind the orchestra, the wealthy had boxes, or loges, to themselves, and dandies and diletantes sat in the balconies, in the cheaper seats. Social status also influenced the theatres one attended. The "theatre-going was socially structured: popular audiences flocked to the popular, or "boulevard" theatres, while the aristocracy and the intelligensia supported the Comédie-Français, the Odéon, the Opera, and the Comic Opera." (Daniels 8)

The bourgeoisie used the Opéra to 'strut their stuff,' so to speak.