THE BOOK. . . . . . .


Scan-Book Cover MSUP Catalogue - January 2014 copy0007
A rigorous study of pre–French Revolution performance practices in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti)

–East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, May, 2014

“An important and exciting new work, David Powers’ From Plantation to Paradise? engages the nexus between art and society, documenting not only the elaborately-staged, eighteenth-century performances of French opera in the Caribbean colonies, but also the participation of enslaved and freed blacks as musicians (singers and instrumentalists) in this repertoire–even as the operatic texts supported colonialism and racial stereotypes. Through her entwined examinations of the music education offered by Jesuit missionaries to the enslaved, the importance of ceremonial music within the racially-segregated military units of whites and free coloreds in the maintenance of colonial authority, and the lavish productions of French operas that embodied the accepted racial and social hierarchies, Powers makes significant contributions to African-Caribbean studies, French colonial history, and French baroque opera.”

—Ellen T. Harris, Class of 1949 Professor Emeritus,
Music and Theater Arts, MIT


  • A unique study of the impact of French operatic culture on the lives of all people in a colonial plantation system (blacks, whites, the enslaved, the freed)


  • Presented in a compelling manner in which the author bridges the operatic culture for non-specialists by outlining relevant issues concerning slavery and the Enlightenment.


  • The study demonstrates the various ways in which musical theatre illustrated the degree of sub-Saharan African influence, socially as well as economically, on all colonial lifestyles.


  • The book explores the strong bonds between music, society, and the French concept of the sub-Saharan African Other–all of which were nourished within an environment consumed with the complexities of colonization.


  • Powers’ book examines the elaborate system of social casting in these colonies; the environments in which nonwhite artists emerged; and both negative and positive contributions of the Catholic Church and the military to operas and concerts produced in the colonies.


  • The author also explores the level of participation of nonwhites in these productions, as well as theatre architecture, décor, repertoire, seating arrangements, and types of audiences.


  • The status of nonwhite artists in colonial society; the range of operas in which they performed; their accomplishments, praise, criticism; and the use of créole texts and white actors/singers à visage noirs (with blackened faces) present a clear picture of French operatic culture in these colonies.


  • Approaching the French Revolution, the study concludes with an examination of the ways in which colonial opera was affected by slave uprisings, the French Revolution, the emergence of “patriotic theatres,” and their role in fostering support for the king, as well as the impact on subsequent operas produced in the colonies and in the United States.


Thus, the study is intended not only for music educators and music students; it is also written for non-musical persons interested in Africana studies, French Caribbean studies, musical theatre, and status of women in colonial society.

For information on the author, please click on “MEET THE AUTHOR” in the sidebar menu.
To purchase an autographed copy of the book, please visit:
(Unsigned copes are also available at this site.)


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