110. Persée (Lully)

PERSÉE

Tragédie lyrique in a prologue and 5 acts

Composer : Jean-Baptiste Lully

Libretto : Philippe Quinault

First performed : Académie royale de musique (1re salle du Palais-Royal), 17 April 1682, conducted by the composer ; Versailles, June 1682


Quinault’s libretti remove the imagination of the Greek myths, petrifying them, as if with the Gorgon’s head, into bland and predictable court entertainment.

The legend of Perseus is one of the most exciting Greek stories; Quinault only preserves the ferocious, snake-haired Gorgons and the rescue of Andromeda from the sea monster.

He removes Danaë’s imprisonment in a tower; his conception by golden shower; the perilous voyage by sea crate; the wicked king Polydectes; the one-eyed, one-toothed Graeae; and the accidental slaying of his grandfather.

In their place, he serves up the usual stereotyped romantic parallelogram, complete with jealous princess (Persée and Andromède love each other, Phinée loves Andromède, Mérope loves Persée), insipid recitative, and ballet dancing.

Lully’s operas are, as we’ve said before, very samey; they’re the products of a bureaucratic approach to opera, subjects chosen by the king, music stencilled.

The best part of the score is Mercure’s “air des songes”, “O tranquille sommeil, que vous êtes charmant!”, with the Gorgons yapping like dogs; the Ethiopian chorus “Que n’aimez vous”; and the wedding celebrations at the end.

Some critics also praise Mérope’s “Ah! je garderai bien mon coeur”; Phinée’s “L’amour meurt dans mon coeur”; and the High Priest’s “O doux hymen, sois propice à nos voeux”.


SUGGESTED RECORDINGS

EPSON scanner image

Listen to: Paul Agnew (Persée), Anne Maria Panzarella (Andromède), Salome Haller (Mérope), Jérome Corréas (Phinée), Monique Simon (Cassiope), Vincent Billier (Céphée), Robert Getchell (Mercure), and Laurent Slaars (Méduse), with Les Talens Lyriques, conducted by Christophe Rousset.  Astrée Naïve E 8874.

Watch: Cyril Auvity (Persée), Marie Lenormand (Andromède), Stephanie Novacek (Cassiope), Monica Whicher (Mérope), Olivier Laquerre (Céphée / Méduse), Alain Coulombe (Phinée), and Colin Ainsworth (Mercure), conducted by Hervé Niquet.  Opera Atelier, Toronto, 2004.


FURTHER READING

  • “Persée”, Opéra Baroque
  • Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869.
  • Piotr Kaminski, Mille et un opéras, Paris : Fayard, 2003

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