Thésée (Gossec)

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Thésée (Theseus) is an opera by the composer François-Joseph Gossec, first performed at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opéra) on 1 March 1782. It is a setting of a revised version in four acts of a libretto by Philippe Quinault, originally set by Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1675.

François-Joseph Gossec French composer of operas

François-Joseph Gossec was a French composer of operas, string quartets, symphonies, and choral works.

Paris Opera the primary opera company of France

The Paris Opera is the primary opera and ballet company of France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra, and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and officially renamed the Académie Royale de Musique, but continued to be known more simply as the Opéra. Classical ballet as it is known today arose within the Paris Opera as the Paris Opera Ballet and has remained an integral and important part of the company. Currently called the Opéra National de Paris, it mainly produces operas at its modern 2700-seat theatre Opéra Bastille which opened in 1989, and ballets and some classical operas at the older 1970-seat Palais Garnier which opened in 1875. Small scale and contemporary works are also staged in the 500-seat Amphitheatre under the Opéra Bastille.

Philippe Quinault French opera librettist

Philippe Quinault, French dramatist and librettist, was born in Paris.

Contents

Roles

CastVoice typePremiere
Églé, princess raised under the supervision of Égée, King of Athens soprano Antoinette Saint-Huberty
Cléone, confidante of ÉglésopranoGertrude Girardin
Arcas, confidant of Égéebasse-taille (bass-baritone)Moreau
Grande prêtresse de Minerve (high priestess of Minerva)sopranoChâteauvieux
Égée (Aegeus), King of Athensbasse-taille (bass-baritone) Henri Larrivée
Médée (Medea), a princess and enchantresssopranoFrançoise-Claude-Marie-Rosalie Campagne (called Mlle Duplant)
Dorine, confidante of MédéesopranoMlle Joinville
Thésée (Theseus), unknown son of Égée haute-contre Joseph Legros
Minerve (the goddess Minerva) sopranoChâteauvieux
Deux vieillards (two old men) tenor/basse-taille Étienne Lainez, Auguste-Athanase (Augustin) Chéron
Une vieille (an old woman) sopranoAnne-Marie-Jeanne Gavaudan (the elder)
Chorus: Priestesses of Minerva, followers of Égée, warriors, inhabitants of the Underworld, people of Athens, Furies

Synopsis

Act 1

Princess Églé is in love with Thésée and prays for his safe return from battle against rebels who are threatening King Égée of Athens. Égée enters victorious. He tells Églé he is in love with her, despite being betrothed to the sorceress Médée. Égée says he now intends to marry Médée to his son, whom he has hidden away at Troezen and has not seen for years. The Athenians celebrate their victory with a sacrifice to the goddess Minerva.

Act 2

Médée is in love with Thésée. She agree to let Égée break off their engagement so he can pursue Églé. Égée is jealous of Thésée's popularity with the people of Athens, who want to make him the king's heir because of his bravery in battle. Médée offers to help Thésée, who reveals to her that he is in love with Églé, provoking the sorceress to jealousy.

Act 3

Médée threatens Églé that she will use her magic against her if the princess does not renounce her love for Thésée and marry the king instead. She conjures up a vision of a terrifying desert full of monsters and also menaces Églé with demons from hell. Médée also says she will put Thésée's life in danger if Églé does not comply. She conjures a vision of the sleeping Thésée in which she threatens to sacrifice him with a knife. Thésée wakes and is perplexed by Églé's sudden coldness towards him. She explains she is trying to save his life. Thésée reveals that he is Égée's son from Troezen. Médée appears to relent and bless the betrothal of Thésée and Églé.

Act 4

In reality, Médée is still tortured by jealousy. She persuades Égée to kill Thésée, warning him that if he makes Thésée his heir the king will wrong his missing son. Égée hands Thésée a poisoned chalice but he recognises Thésée's sword and realises the young man must be his son. Just in time, he prevents Thésée from drinking the poison. He agrees to let Thésée marry Églé. Thwarted, Médée escapes only to reappear on a flying chariot pulled by dragons. She threatens to burn down the palace but the goddess Minerve prevents her and raises a magnificent new palace and the opera ends with rejoicing.

Minerva Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and defense

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. From the second century BC onward, the Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena, though the Romans did not stress her relation to battle and warfare as the Greeks did.

Recording

Guy Van Waas is a Belgian conductor, clarinetist and organist.

Sources


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