Marie Baptiste was a French actress and singer working in Sweden. She was the prima donna of the French theatre company the Du Londel Troupe during the latter part of the 1700s.
Born Marie Dumont in Bordeaux, she married the musician Jacques Anselme Baptiste in 1754. Information varies as to when the couple arrived in Sweden. One source says that they were part of a troupe of actors recruited to Sweden in 1753 by the royal couple Adolf Fredrik and Lovisa Ulrika. Another source states that the couple came to Sweden in 1756, when theatre director Du Londel travelled from Sweden to recruit new members for the French Theatre; the original troupe that arrived in 1753 consisted only of twelve persons and needed reinforcing. The French Theatre performed at the court and also gave public performances at Bollhuset on Slottsbacken.
Anselme Baptiste, who later played the violoncello in the court orchestra, was also employed as a cello teacher for crown prince Gustav in the mid-1750s. Marie Baptiste was the French troupe’s prima donna and, according to her employment contract, was to sing and play the main roles in both the tragedies and comedies produced. Both also appeared as concert soloists and they are included in concert programmes from the end of the 1750s until the 1770s. Anselme Baptiste performed on the violoncello and Marie Baptiste as a singer, amongst other engagements as a concert singer at concerts in the Riddarhuset palace.
Marie Baptiste received especial appreciation for her tragic role interpretations and she was noted particularly for her role as Gabrielle in Gabrielle de Vergy by de Pierre Laurent de Belloy. When Gustav III made his first journey to France in 1771, and saw the widely acclaimed actress Dumesnil in Paris, he wrote home that she did not attain the same artistic level as Marie Baptiste. Marie Baptiste also made an important contribution in connection with a performance on the Queen’s name-day on 25 August 1762. After the fourth act, Marie Baptiste came rushing onto the stage and made a gesture, which the audience first believed to belong to the play. Then she shouted in a half-smothered voice: “Le feu!” Fire! Everyone rushed out, although a maidservant, a boy and two of the “workers” died in the fire. The theatre burned down to the ground and for four years, there was no theatre building at Drottningholm. The present Drottningholm Theatre was completed in 1766. The actors lost everything in the fire since they had their lodgings in the theatre building with all their belongings. Maria Baptiste was granted a state pension of 1,000 silver coins for having called the alarm and thereby given most people the chance of escaping from the premises. The pension was retracted in 1765 however, but returned to her later, first in 1769 and thereafter in 1776.
Anselme and Marie Baptiste had several children. Their son Fredrik Adolf was born in 1756, and another son, Anselme Joannes Baptiste, was born in 1757. Their daughter Marie Louise was born around 1758. They probably had a second daughter too, who is said to have become a dancer in the ballet. The first-born son had the royal couple as his only godparents, which implies appreciation from the royals. Their daughter Marie Louise later became a well-known opera singer.
At the end of 1762 according to certain sources, Marie Baptiste lived separated from her husband, who “by order of the court” travelled elsewhere. The French Theatre troupe’s director, superintendent Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz communicated that Anselme Baptiste had been granted permission to leave the kingdom. No explanation was given. In 1768, Monsieur Baptiste returned however, and participated as a soloist in a concert in the great hall of the Riddarhuset. Concert programmes from 1763 and 1764 in which she performed confirm that Marie Baptiste remained in Stockholm during her husband’s absence.
In 1771, Gustav III as the new King dismissed his father’s French Theatre troupe and ordered the actors out of the country. He blamed the necessity of economic cuts. The Baptiste couple started a wandering existence in Europe in search of engagements, but were often met according to contemporary witnesses by laughter and scornful comments when they performed. In 1776, they returned to Sweden, accompanied by at least one of their children, their daughter Marie Louise. Gustav III wanted to found a Swedish theatre and opera, and he realised that he needed new French talents to build it up. The new theatre troupe’s leader, Jacques Marie Boutet Monvel had as a member of his troupe the dancer Jean Marie Marcadet, who married Marie Louise Baptiste. Thus we can see her as a link between both theatre troupes.
The Baptiste couple participated from Christmas 1776 in plays at Gripsholm, where the court was then in residence. Carl Reinhold von Fersen wrote: “French comedies were performed every evening”. In letters and memoirs, it appears that the Baptiste couple and their daughter belonged to the important actors in performances at the end of the 1770s, that were mainly private events for the court.
Anselme Baptiste was employed as a violoncellist in the theatre orchestra and in the court orchestra in 1776, and performed as a soloist in three concerts that year. In 1778 he was instead employed by the royal household. Marie Baptiste appears not to have performed in any concerts during those final years in Sweden. The couple finally left Sweden in 1786.