Isis (Lully)

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Isis is a French opera (tragédie en musique) in a prologue and five acts with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully and a libretto by Philippe Quinault, based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. The fifth of Lully's collaborations with Quinault, it was first performed on 5 January 1677 before the royal court of Louis XIV at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye and in August received a run of public performances at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal.[1] It was Lully's first published score (partbooks in 1677);[2] a full score was published in 1719.

Performance history[edit]

Isis was revived only once during the remaining 38 years of Louis XIV's reign, on 14 February 1704. It was revived again in 1717–1718 and 1732–1733.[1]


Role Voice type Premiere cast,[1][3] 5  January 1677
Fame soprano Marie Verdier
Apollo haute-contre La Grille
Calliope soprano Des Fronteaux
Thalia soprano Piesche
Melpomene soprano Caillot
Clio soprano Régnier
Urania soprano Datys
Neptune bass Forestier
First Triton haute-contre Dumesnil
Second Triton haute-contre Nouveau
Acts 1–5
Jupiter baritone François Beaumavielle
Io / Isis soprano Marie Aubry
Hierax baritone Jean Gaye
Juno soprano Saint-Christophe
Iris soprano Beaucreux
Hebe soprano Marie-Madeleine Brigogne
Mycene soprano Sainte-Colombe
Pan bass Godonesche
Argus bass Antoine Morel
Mercury haute-contre Bernard Clédière
A Fury haute-contre Ribon
First Fate soprano Bony
Second Fate haute-contre Langeais
Third Fate haute-contre Forestier

The ballets were danced by Pierre Beauchamp, Louis Pécourt, Magny, and Boutteville.



The prologue, which includes the usual paean to Louis XIV, takes place in the palace of Fame (La Renommée) with Rumors (Rumeurs) and Noises (Bruits) dancing in attendance to the goddess. When Fame sings of "the glory and triumphant valor of the greatest of heroes," she is referring to Louis XIV. She is visited by Apollo with his retinue of Muses, who arrive from the sky, and Neptune with his retinue of Tritons, who arrive from the sea. Both groups are equipped with violins, lutes, and trumpets. When Neptune sings of the conqueror's recent adventures at sea, he is referring to the French naval victory over the Dutch and Spanish in 1676 in the Franco-Dutch War.[4]

Acts 1–5[edit]

The plot of the tragedy of Isis is loosely adapted from one of the episodes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In many of its essentials, it 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 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 character of Io was equated with Madame de Ludres, Louis XIV's new favorite at court, to whom he had given lavish gifts. His long-time mistress, Madame de Montespan, "was furious and did everything she could to humiliate her."[5] 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.




  1. ^ a b c Pitou 1983, pp. 239–241; Lajarte 1878, pp. 31–32.
  2. ^ Rosow 1992, p. 827.
  3. ^ Casaglia 2005, "5 Gennaio 1677", Almanacco Amadeus. Accessed 10 July 2014.
  4. ^ Pitou 1983, p. 240.
  5. ^ Pitou 1983, p. 241.


External links[edit]