Alceste (Lully)

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Alceste, ou Le triomphe d’Alcide is a tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The French-language libretto is by Philippe Quinault, after EuripidesAlcestis. It was first performed on 19 January 1674 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal by the Paris Opera.

The opera was presented in celebration of King Louis XIV’s victory against Franche-Comté, and the prologue features nymphs longing for his return from battle. The opera itself concerns Alceste, princess of Iolcos and queen of Thessaly, who in the first act is abducted by Licomède (Lycomedes), king of Scyros, with the aid of his sister Thetis, a sea nymph; Aeolus, the god of the winds; and other supernatural forces. In the battle to rescue her, Alcide (Hercules) is triumphant, but Alceste’s husband, Admète (Admetus), suffers a mortal wound. Apollo agrees to let Admète live if someone will take his place in death. Alceste volunteers herself but is rescued by Alcide, who loves her. The opera ends with a celebration of Alceste’s return from the underworld and of Alcide’s noble gallantry in returning her to her husband and relinquishing any claims to her.

Alceste is Lully’s second tragédie en musique, after Cadmus et Hermione.

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
19 January 1674
(Conductor: – )
Nymph of the Seine soprano Mlle de Saint-Christophe (or Saint-Christophle)
La Gloire soprano Mlle de La Garde
Nymph of the Tuileries soprano Mlle Rebel
Nymph of the Marne soprano Mlle Ferdinand
Alceste, Princess of Iolcos soprano Mlle de Saint-Christophe
Admète, King of Thessaly haute-contre Bernard Clédière
Alcide (Hercules), Greek hero basse-taille François Beaumavielle
Licomède, King of Scyros and brother of Thetis bass Godonesche
Lychas, confidant of Alcide haute-contre Langeais
Straton, confidant of Lycomedes bass Antoine Morel
Céphise, confidante of Alcestis soprano Mlle Beaucreux
Cléante, knight of Admetus tenor Frizon
Pherès, father of Admetus tenor Gingan
Charon, bass Antoine Morel
Pluton, bass Godonesche
Thétis, a sea-nymph soprano Mlle des Fronteaux (or Desfronteaux)
Apollon, haute-contre Le Roy
Proserpine, soprano Mlle Bony
The Ghost of Alcestis, silent role
Alecton, a Fury haute-contre (en travesti) Le Roy
A Rebuffed Ghost, soprano
Eole, King of the winds tenor Puvigny
Diane, soprano Mlle Piesche

Synopsis[edit]

The musical numbers are as follows: 1. Marche Des Combattons 2. Menuet 3. Loure Pour Les Pecheurs 4. Echos 5. Rondeau De La Gloire 6. La Pompe Funebre 7. Rondeau Pour La Fête 8. Les Vents 9. La Fête Infernale 10. Les Demons 11. Marche Des Assiegeants

Hercules Fighting Death to Save Alcestis by Frederic Lord Leighton (1869-71)

Notable recordings[edit]

References[edit]