The Bald Soprano

The Bald Soprano

"The Bald Soprano" or "The Bald Prima Donna" (original French title "La Cantatrice Chauve") is the first play written by Eugène Ionesco. Nicolas Bataille directed the premiere on May 11 1950 at the Théâtre des Noctambules, Paris. Since 1957 it has been in permanent showing at the Théâtre de la Huchette, which received a Molière d'honneur for its performances. With a record number of interpretations, it has become one of the most performed plays in France.


The idea of the play came to Ionesco while he was trying to learn English with the Assimil method. He was impressed by the contents of the dialogues, often very sober and strange, so he decided to write an absurd play named "L'anglais sans peine" ("English without effort"). The current title was set only after a verbal slip-up made by one of the actors during the rehearsals.


The Smiths are a traditional couple from London, who have invited another couple, the Martins, over for a visit. They are joined later by the Smiths' maid, Mary, and the local fire chief, who is also a friend and possibly former lover of Mary's. The two families engage in meaningless banter, telling stories and relating nonsensical poems. Mrs. Martin at one point converses with her husband as if he were a stranger she just met. As the fire chief turns to leave, he mentions "the bald soprano" in passing, which has a very unsettling effect on the others. Mrs Smith replies that "she always wears her hair in the same style."

Like many plays in the theatre of the absurd genre, the underlying theme of "The Bald Soprano" is not immediately apparent. Many suggest that it expresses the futility of meaningful communication in modern society. The script is charged with non sequiturs that give the impression that the characters are not even listening to each other in their frantic efforts to make their own voices heard. There was speculation around the time of its first performance, categorising it as a parody. Ionesco states in an essay written to his critics, that he had no intention of parody, but if he were parodying anything, it would be everything. "The Bald Soprano" appears to have been written as a continuous loop. The final scene contains stage instructions to start the performance over from the very beginning, with the Martin couple substituted for the Smith couple and vice versa.


Balakrishnan, Sneha (2003). [ The Values of the Theatre of the Absurd in Beckett and Ionesco] "Grade Saver" essay accessed 2007-11-22 Ionesco Plays

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