GLUCK: Paride ed Elena

Music composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Libretto by Ranieri

First Performance: 3 November 1770, Burgtheater,

Principal Characters:
Paris, son of King Priam of Troy soprano castrato
Helen, Queen of Sparta soprano
Amore [Cupid], under the name of Erasto, Helenís confidant soprano
Pallas Athene (Minerva), goddess, daughter of Jupiter soprano
A Trojan soprano

Setting: Sparta before the Trojan War.


The last of Gluckís so-called reform operas, Paride ed Elena
encompasses the events between The Judgment of
and the flight of Paris and Helen to Troy.

According to the Cyprea:

plans with Themis to bring about the Trojan war. Strife arrives while the
gods are feasting at the marriage of Peleus and starts a dispute between
Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite as to which of them is fairest. The three are led
by Hermes at the command of Zeus to Alexandrus [Paris] on Mount Ida for his
decision, and Alexandrus, lured by his promised marriage with Helen, decides
in favour of Aphrodite.

Paris deserts the nymph Oenone and proceeds to
Sparta to claim Helen, the wife of Menelaus. Following the Greek custom to
ì[h]ave Respect for one in need of house and hospitality,î Menelaus
welcomes Paris as his guest. Paris
thereupon seduces Helen
. Initially
, Helen ultimately takes flight with Paris to Troy.

The abduction of Helen leads to the Trojan War immortalized in Homer’s
Iliad. Ironically, Paris dies from battle wounds that Oenone refuses
to cure. Helen, on the other hand, returns to Sparta where Menelaus restores
her as his queen. Although condemned by the tragedians, others found Helen
praiseworthy. Indeed, the great rhetorician, Isocrates,
went so far as to argue:

Apart from the arts and philosophic studies and all the other benefits
which one might attribute to her and to the Trojan War, we should be
justified in considering that it is owing to Helen that we are not the
slaves of the barbarians. For we shall find that it was because of her that
the Greeks became united in harmonious accord and organized a common
expedition against the barbarians, and that it was then for the first time
that Europe set up a trophy of victory over Asia; and in consequence, we
experienced a change so great that, although in former times any barbarians
who were in misfortune presumed to be rulers over the Greek cities (for
example, Danaus, an exile from Egypt, occupied Argos, Cadmus of Sidon
became king of Thebes, the Carians colonized the islands, and Pelops, son
of Tantalus, became master of all the Peloponnese), yet after that war our
race expanded so greatly that it took from the barbarians great cities and
much territory. If, therefore, any orators wish to dilate upon these
matters and dwell upon them, they will not be at a loss for material apart
from what I have said, wherewith to praise Helen; on the contrary, they
will discover many new arguments that relate to her.


Paris, having chosen Venus above Juno and Minerva, is in Sparta,
sacrificing to Venus and seeking, now with the encouragement of Erasto, the
love of Helen. Paris and Helen meet at her royal palace and each is struck
by the other’s beauty. She calls on him to judge an athletic contest and
when asked to sing he does so in praise of her beauty, admitting the
purpose of his visit is to win her love. She dismisses him. In despair
Paris now pleads with her, and she begins to give way. Eventually, through
the intervention of Erasto, who now reveals himself as Cupid, she gives
way, but Pallas Athene (Minerva) now warns them of sorrow to come. In the
final scene Paris and Helen make ready to embark for Troy.

[Synopsis source: Naxos]

image_description=Les Amours de P‚ris et d’HÈlËne by Jacques-Louis David (1788) [MusÈe du Louvre]
first_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Paride ed Elena
WinAMP, VLC, FooBar
product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Paride ed Elena
product_by=Magdalena Kozena (Paride), Susan Gritton (Elena), Carolyn Sampson (Amore), Gillian Webster (Pallade), Gabrieli Consort & Players, directed by Paul McCreesh.
Live performance, 23 October 2003, CitÈ de la Musique, Paris