Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Sources: Wikipedia, and University of Texas North Libraries site.
LULLY Persée (Perseus)
King Louis XIV's involvement in campaigns against the Dutch/Swedish alliance in early 1682 prevented him from attending the premiere of Persée in April of that year.  As was customary in the operas of composer Jean-Baptiste Lully and librettist Philippe Quinault, the prologue included references to current battlefield exploits and portrayed the king as a paragon of virtue. The prologues of previous Lully operas emphasized glory and prowess over virtue; the change in emphasis in Persée may have resulted from the increased influence of Madame de Maintenon (the king's new mistress) in the court and her pension for decorum. In his dedication, Lully states his intentions: "I understand that in describing the favorable Gifts which Persée has received from the Gods and the astonishing enterprises which he has achieved so gloriously, I am tracing a Portrait of the heroic qualities and the wonderful deeds of Your Majesty."

Genre: tragédie lyrique (Tragédie en musique)
Composer: Jean-Baptiste Lully, 1632-1687
Librettist: Philippe Quinault, 1635-1688
Libretto based on: a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses
Setting: Various mythological places
Premiere: Paris, Palais-Royal, April 17 or 18, 1682
First published: Paris: Christophe Ballard, 1682
Volume in the UNT Lully Collection: Second edition, Paris: J. B. C. Ballard, 1722

Persée son of Jupiter and Danaë     haute-contre     Louis Gaulard Dumesny
Andromède daughter of Céphée  soprano    
Phinée, brother of Céphée     baritone     François Beaumavielle
Mérope, sister of Cassiope     soprano     Marie Le Rochois
Phronime, attendant of Virtue        
Mégathyme, attendant of Virtue        
Céphée, King of Ethiopia     bass    
Cassiope, Queen of Ethiopia     mezzo-soprano    
Amphimédon, an Ethiopian        
Corite, an Ethiopian        
Proténor, an Ethiopian        
The Cyclopes        
Mercure     haute-contre    
Méduse, a Gorgon     tenor    
Euryale, a Gorgon     tenor, descant above Méduse    
Sténone, a Gorgon     baritone    
Idas, a Sailor in Céphée's navy        
High priest of Hymenée (wedding priest)        
High priest        
L'amour (Love)        
L'hymen (Marriage)        
Triton, Neptune's henchman

A 2004 production by Opera Atelier performed live at the Elgin Theatre under the direction of Marshall Pynkoski and conducted by Hervé Niquet in Toronto is the first home video release of the opera. It features Cyril Auvity (Persée), Marie Lenormand (Andromeda), Stephanie Novacek (Cassiope), Monica Whicher (Mérope), Olivier Laquerre (Céphée/Méduse (the latter transposed from F to E-flat)), Alain Coutomber (Phinée), and Colin Ainsworth (Mercure). The designer was Gérard Gauci and the choreographer was Jeannette Zingg. Marc Stone directed the television production.
The plot of Persée is loosely taken from an episode in Ovid's Metamorphoses, concerning the death of the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa (Méduse) at the hands of Perseus (Persée), son of the god Jupiter (Zeus) and the mortal woman Danaë. Grand spectacle permeates Persée, which includes the famous decapitation of the Mèduse. A quadrangle of genuine and unrequited lovers forms the center of plot with the genuine love of Andromède and Persée prevailing in the end.

It concerns the love between Persée and Andromède, who is already betrothed to Phinée, while Mérope loves Persée. Persée is able to triumph and win Andromède by overcoming supernatural enemies, including the Gorgon Méduse, using weapons he is granted by the gods. Phinée's jealousy pits him against Persée, leading to the ultimate confrontation. Mérope allies with Phinée at first, but has a change of heart.

Prologue  in a dark forest. Virtue sees herself threatened by faltering Fortune. Fortune appears in the company of Splendor and Abundance and asks Virtue to create a Hero (recognized as King Louix XIV) as a peace offering. All praise the newly-created Hero, who in the opera to follow will be championed by Apollo.

Act I  The curtains open to reveal a magnificently decorated public square in Ethiopia. King Céphée expresses the terror his people feel for the snake-haired Mèduse, who threatens the Ethiopian people with her baleful gaze that turns anyone she looks on to stone.. To curry favor with Juno, the Ethiopians prepare a series of plays. As the plot begins to unfold, we learn that Mérope, sister-in-law of the king, secretly loves Persée. However, Persée loves and is loved by Androméde, the king's daughter. Androméde, on the other hand, is betrothed to Phinée, her uncle, who suspects that she has another love interest. The plays are abruptly interrupted by a messenger who announces that Mèduse is again transforming people into stone.

Act II takes place in the Gardens of Céphée's palace. Céphée announces that Persée is willing to release the Ethiopians from Mèduse's grip by cutting off her head. As a reward, he is to have Androméde as his own. Androméde and Mérope fear for Persée's life and pray for his safe return. In taking his leave, Persée learns that, although promised to Phinée, Androméde loves only him. Mercure assures Persée of the assistance of all the Gods (with the exception of Juno--jealous, as usual, of Jupiter's illegitimate child). A troupe of Cyclops brings a sword forged by Vulcan to Persée, nymphs bring Pallas's diamond shield, and a band of underworld demons present him with the helmet of Pluto.

Act III  opens in the cave of the Gorgons. The snake-haired Mèduse describes the terrible fate she has endured through the jealousy of Pallas in a powerful air, "Je port l'epouvante" ("I bear terror"). Mercure casts a powerful spell with his own exquisite air, "O tranquille sommeil," which causes a deep sleep to come over Mèduse. Using Pallas's shield as a mirror to avoid the fell gaze of the Gorgon, Persée decapitates Mèduse. Then, using Pluto's helmet to make himself invisible, Persée flees the wrath of the remaining Gorgons carrying Mèduse's head.

Act IV the Ethiopians are awaiting the victorious Persée on a rocky seacoast as a storm arises. A sailor, Idas, enters to announce that the furious Juno, in alliance with Neptune, is determined to sacrifice Andromède to a sea-monster. Phinée, rather than defending Andromède, admits that he would rather see her dead than in the arms of his rival in an impassioned air, L'Amour meurt dans mon coeur ("Love dies in my heart"). Before the despairing eyes of the king, the Tritons chain Andromède to a rock. At the last moment, Persée flies toward the approaching monster and kills it. The storm ends and the Ethiopians return to the beach to celebrate victory.

Act V The first scene takes place in a place prepared for the wedding of Persée and Androméde. Mérope, who mourns her lost hope of marrying Persée, longs for death. She and Phinée, with the help of Juno, decide to avenge themselves on Persée. As the high priest starts the wedding ceremony, however, Mérope repents of her treachery and interrupts to tell Persée of Phinée's advancing army. The guests flee and Persée and Phinée do battle. With Juno protecting Phinée, it seems that he will win; however, Persée, using the remaining power of the Gorgon's head, turns his enemy to stone.
    The scene changes to Venus' palace. Venus announces to the Ethiopians that Juno is appeased and that, from now on, they will live in peace. While Céphée, Cassiope, Persée and Androméde hover on Mercure's wings, the Ethiopians celebrate with dancing and singing.

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