Isis (Lully)

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Isis is an opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully. It was the fifth of Jean-Baptiste Lully's tragédies lyriques written with librettist Philippe Quinault, and like most of Lully's operas, it is a tragédie lyrique. It premièred January 5, 1677 at the court of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and was first published in 1719.

The plot is loosely adapted from one of the episodes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In many of its essentials, the plot of Isis resembles that of Lully's previous opera, Atys. The story of the opera centers around the god Jupiter's love for the nymph Io and the jealousy of Juno.

Io, daughter of the river Inachus, is promised in marriage to Hierax, just as the nymph Sangaride, daughter of the river Sangar, was promised to Celoenus. Like Sangaride, Io is pursued by another love, and yields to this love in spite of her feelings of guilt. Like Sangaride, Io has a goddess as a rival and is vulnerable to her jealousy.

Juno has Io imprisoned and tortured, leading Io to cry out to Jupiter for help. He swears faithfulness to Juno if she will spare Io, and Juno turns Io into a goddess: Isis, the Egyptian goddess.

Lully's contemporaries interpreted this story as representing the volatile situation between two of the King's mistresses. The subsequent scandale of the premiere ended the collaboration between Lully and Quinault for a time, and led to the dismissal of a number of members of Lully's artistic circle.


Role Voice type Premiere cast, January 5, 1677
Jupiter bass
Io soprano
Juno soprano
Argus bass-baritone
Neptune bass
Mercury haute-contre
Hierax bass-baritone
A Fury haute-contre


  • Isis Soloists, La Simphonie du Marais, conducted by Hugo Reyne (Accord, 3 CDs, 2005)


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