Les Boréades

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Les Boréades (The Descendants of Boreas) or Abaris is an opera in five acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau. It was the last of Rameau's five tragédies en musique. The libretto, attributed to Louis de Cahusac (died 1759), is loosely based on the Greek legend of Abaris the Hyperborean and includes Masonic elements.


There were no known performances of this opera in Rameau's lifetime. The work was in rehearsal in 1763 at the Paris Opéra, probably for a private performance at the court at Choisy. It is not known why the performance was abandoned, though many theories have been put forward, including that factions at court fought over it, the music was too difficult, there were subversive plot elements, and that the Opéra was burnt down in the month of rehearsals. The first known performance of the work was in 1770 in a concert performance at Lille. J.J.M. Lacroix had collected Rameau's works after the composer's death, and thus ensured survival of this score. The Bibliothèque Nationale housed the collected works, including various manuscripts related to this opera.[1]

Modern performance history[edit]

The first modern performance of the work was by the ORTF in 1963. It owes its modern revival to the conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who gave a concert version of the piece (in which Trevor Pinnock played continuo) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 14 April 1975, for which he had prepared the orchestral material from the original manuscripts over the preceding year. In July 1982, Gardiner gave the first fully staged performance with Catherine Turocy, choreographer, and her New York Baroque Dance Company at the Aix-en-Provence Festival.[2] Since then, the opera's reputation and popularity have grown considerably.


Role Voice type Premiere cast
Unperformed in Rameau's time
Alphise soprano
Sémire soprano
Borilée baritone
Calisis haute-contre
Abaris haute-contre
Adamas baritone
A nymph soprano
L'Amour (Cupid) soprano
Polymnie (Polyhymnia) soprano
Boréas bass
Apollon baritone
Pleasures, Graces, Apollo's priests, Bactrian people, seasons,
zephyrs, subterranean winds (chorus)


Alphise, Queen of Bactria, is in love with Abaris, whose origins are unknown. According to the traditions of her country, Alphise must marry a Boread, one of the descendants of Boreas, the god of the North Wind. Determined to marry Abaris, Alphise abdicates, angering Boreas who storms into the wedding and abducts Alphise to his kingdom. With the help of Apollo and the muse Polyhymnia, Abaris sets off to rescue her. He challenges Boreas and his sons with a magic golden arrow. Apollo descends as deus ex machina and reveals that Abaris is really his son by a Boread nymph. Therefore, there is no longer any obstacle to Abaris and Alphise's marriage.


As the opera has no entry in Francis Clough and G.J. Cuming's World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music, which documents most significant classical recordings of the electrical 78 RPM era, the first recording of an excerpt likely was one of the relatively few such disks omitted from that publication: pianist Marie Novello's account of Gavottes pour les Heures from Act IV, recorded on March 1, 1927[3] and issued as one side of HMV 10" 78 RPM record no. B 2592, labeled simply "Gavotte." Complete recordings from the modern era include the following:


  1. ^ Sadler, Graham, "Rameau's Last Opera: Abaris, ou Les Boréades (April 1975). The Musical Times, 116 (1586): pp. 327–329.
  2. ^ Modern performance information: notes to Gardiner's recording of Les Boréades.
  3. ^ Biographical sketch at the Naxos records Web site, accessed 6 November 2008