Jean Baptiste Lully’s PersÈe

From the opening scene, Louis XIV would
have felt quite at home in Versailles or the AcadÈmie Royal de Musique,2 viewing a performance of Lully’s TragÈdies

It was, then, the custom to emulate the grandeur and “virtuosity” of
the king in the form of mythological and classical heroes. All court
entertainment, specifically opera and to a greater extent ballet, was
allegoric, where good won over evil and credit was always given to Louis
XIV,4 the Sun King, for his wisdom, generosity,
forgiveness and every other kingly quality, except for the bad ones: those
were ignored or at best, only observed behind closed doors. The Sun King
and royalty, in general, were always portrayed from their best possible
angle—art re-inventing life, or was it the other way around?5

Though not without precedent, purists may regret this production
eliminating the Prologue: Lully used it to set up the story,6 and to further glorify the king’s virtues
and his victories in the war against the Swedish/Dutch alliance.7 But never fear, in Lully’s operas, the
libretto is tightly written so that each act is a “play” unto itself with
its own theme, yet carrying the dramatic line from the previous act onto the
next—links in a closed chain with the entr’acte as an indicator of time or
place.8 To facilitate the continuity, the scenes
withing each act are marked by the entrance and exit of characters, the
former usually accompanied by a brief musical introduction.9

This DVD opens with the exchange between the Ethiopian king, CÈphÈe
(Olivier Laquerre), his wife Cassiope (Stephanie Novacek), and her sister,
MÈrope (Monica Whicher), who is in lover with PersÈe—but PersÈe lovers
CÈphÈ’s and Cassiope’s daughter, AndromËde. This love triangle sets up
the plot of the opera: CÈphÈ has promised his daughter’s hand to his
brother, PhinÈe.

Canadian Bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre is a versatile singing-actor,
equally convincing as the dignified King of Ethiopia or as the whimpering
Medusa;10 Laquerre takes control of the stage with
his presence: he is very tall, 6-foot-5 and gifted with good looks, wit,
plenty of charisma, and a deep voice of pleasant timbre. From his opening
line, “Je crains que Junon ne refuse,”11 CÈphÈe is torn between his duties as
king, his duties to the gods, and the unscrupulous five and take of politics;
he is forced to denounce his wife, “Les dieux punissent la fiertÈ.”12 in exchange of Juno’s forgiveness, and to seek
PersÈe’s help to defeat Medusa, at the cost of breaking the promise made to
his brother, PhinÈe. CÈphÈe’s good will and helplessness are clearly
evident in spite of his elegant carriage, and Laquerre plays on this through
effective moves and color in the voice.

Laquerre burst into the world of opera in 1999 when he won the Joseph
Ruleau Prize at the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada Voice Competition.13 In 2005, Laquerre sang the role of Theodorus
Ivanowitz in the world premiere of Johann Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow; the
following year, the young Canadian singer debuted in Quebec as Escamillo in
Bizet’s Carmen. The year 2007 brought the release of the film The Magic
Flute Diaries
in which Laquerre sings the role of Papageno.

In sharp contrast to Laquerre’s elegant king, his Medusa stands above the
croud in terms of interpretation and wit. This is no overly dramatic raving
lunatic; instead, Laquerre’s Medusa is amusing and amused about “her”
misfortune. In “J’ay perdu la beautÈ,”14 Laquerre makes eye contact with members of the
audience and hisses at them in imitation of the words he sings; he prances
and parades around the stage, laughs wickedly, and runs the gamut of facial
expressions and grandiose body language. This Medusa is Phyllis
Diller-meets-Gypsy Role Lee singing “Let me entertain you,” and Laquerre
carries it off!

One glance at Stephanie Novacek’s good looks and sensuous carriage and the
viewer easily understands Juno’s anger toward the character of Cassiope.
This is no wall flower or contrite queen as “Hereuse espouse, hereuse
mËre,” and “Par un cruel chastiment,”15 would indicate. Cassiope is a woman
obsessed with her vanity, her ego, and her quest for a “glorious
destiny,” regardless of the cost.

A former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Iowa native, Novacek
gained international attention with her performance of Jo, in the world
premiere of Mark Adamo’s Little Women at the Houston Grand Opera. Novacek
also created the role of Maria Callas in Michael Daughtery’s Jackie O, also
at the Houston Grand Opera, and for the Cincinnati Opera, she created the
role of Madame, in the US premiere of The Maids, by Peter Bengston. A
versatile singer, she has appeared in many North American and European
operatic centers, covering the entire spectrum of musical styles from
Monteverdi to the present.

Throughout this DVD, Novacek is a superb actress, and she knows how to
show off her fine instrument without sacrificing the musical line. Her
bronzed mezzo-soprano is ideal for the haughty queen; she approaches the
recitatives head on, and without apology. In the prayer, “O Junon!
Puissante dÈesse,”16 Novacek is moving in her pleas to the goddess for
compassion. Her singing is exciting and versatile’ to paraphrase a line
from the Wizard of Oz, “[Stephanie] you not in [Iowa} any more.”

Laquerre and Novacek pull all the stops in Act IV, Scenes 4-6. “Ah!
Quel effroyable supplice”17 leads to one of the opera’s special moments for these
two characters: faced with the impending loss of their daughter, the
Ethiopian King and Queen express their dispair. CÈphÈe’s “Je perds ma
fille, helas!”18 is hearfelt and Cassiope’s “C’est ma
funeste vanitÈ,”19 is passionate and compelling.

PersÈe was the second libretto Philippe Quinault20 wrote for Lully after the poet’s return from exile.
Quinault had been banished from court for his negative portrayal of the
then mistress to the king, Madame de Montespan, in his libretto to Lully’s
opera, Isis (1677).21 Now, as if to redeem himself, the poet
added the character of MÈrope,22 the lovesick woman who gives everything
up for the man she loves, PersÈe (Louis XIV).23

In PersÈe, Quinault and Lully created four distinct characters24 whose opening scenes reflect their true
identities. Most obvious of these is MÈrope, the emotional center of the
opera. Not royal enough to be queen, her position is subservient to her
sister’s vain glory and other circumstances of her own making. Yet,
everything revolves around her, directly as a result of her actions or
indirectly as a mirror to her alter-ego, PhinÈe. MÈrope is pitiful and
embittered, yet strong and determined; she is devious, but in the end, she
proves to be the only one with honorable intentions—her unrequited love for
PersÈe is ideally strong enough for her to retreat and to accept the hero’s

“Rich sensuous tone worthy of her regal character” is how Dave Eliakis
has described soprano Monica Whicher’s instrument, and rightly so: Whicher
has a lustrous tone and she imbues her character with enough poignance and
sincerity of emotion to make the somewhat bitter and conniving character of
the love-torn MÈrope, likable.

Aside from a short ensemble prayer in the first scene of the opera,
MÈrope’s entrance recitatives in Act I, Scene 2, “Le Fils de Jupiter
L’adore…Main vainqueur encore aujourd’huy,”26 gives Wicher ample room to display her
ability to handle the character’s conflicting range of
emotions. As MÈrope, Wicher vacillates from anger and bitterness when
she sings of PersÈe, to sorrow or self-pity when she sings of her emotions
for him. She imbues the words, “…Je murrois de honte et de
rage…,”27 with more longing, as though searching
inward, with each repeat of the phrase.

MÈrope’s lament in Act I, Scene 3, “Ah! Je garderay bienmon
cúur,”28 offers a fine marriage of words, music
and emotions. The long musical line that supports the yearning in the words
ends sharply upon the realization that her rival for PersÈe’s affections,
AndromËde, is approaching with PhinÈe. Wicher’s mastery is evident:
instantly, MÈrope’s lament turns to conniving strategy, betraying her
deceit with the words, “L’espoir de leur hymen flate encore mes vúux, et
c’est ma derniere espÈrance,” and in the subsequent scene, speaking to
AndromÈde and PhinÈe, “Quels diffÈrents sonts capables de rompre de
beaux núuds?”29

Whicher is hypnotic in the opening scene of Act V, “O mort!”30 an emotionally charged hymn from the depths of her
despair, rich in its sincerity of expression, and with a wealth of color in
the voice. For all of the character’s deviousness, Whicher weaves all the
emotions into a beautiful thread of resignation to make the character’s
death-wish believable, though regrettable.

A faculty member at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of
Music in Canada, Whicher’s instrument has been described as having
“…musical elegance combined with an intuitive theatrical sense [that] are
the hallmarks of soprano Monica Whicher’s performances….”31

Alan Coloumbe superbly sings the role of PhinÈe, the anti-hero and
MÈrope’s alter ego. Like his female counterpart, PhinÈe, is a pawn in
a game he is destined to lose, but unlike MÈrope who is driven by her
emotions, PhinÈe is driven by his ego and pride.

Coloumbe has been praised for his rich bass voice, secure tone and
wondrous breath control—all of which he puts to effective use in this
performance. Another good singing actor, Coloumbe sings with aplomb and has
a magnetic stage presence. He is sadistic in “Croyez-moy, croyez
moy,”32 the lively and multifaceted exchange
between PhinÈe and his bethrothed, AndromËde (Marie Lenormand), over her
supposed infidelity. Coloumbe and Lenormand go one to one; a tour de force
of emotions and beautiful singing.

In most of the scenes Coloumbe shares with Wicher, PhinÈe vocalizes
MËrope’s inner wishes and she succumbs to his manipulative words and his
desire for vengeance. MËrope connives in “il est aimÈ de ce qu’il
ayme,”33 on PhinÈe’s behalf, and in Act IV,
Scenes 2 & 3, their music as their singing, is brave and dramatic,
starting with “Nous ressentons mesmes dolueurs,”34 then, together and individually in recitative and
duets, they vent their anger, envy, and their displeasure. As the
approaching storm, as called for in the libretto, gives rise to the seas,
they sing “…Les cú amoureux et jaloux, sont cent fois plus troublez que
vous,”35 and upon learning of AndromËde’s
impending doom, PhinÈe’s angry words, “Les dieux ont soin de nous vanger;
le plaisir que je sens avec peine se cache,”36 could easily have been spoken by
MËrope. In a later scene, PhinÈe’s recitative, “Que ne
purra…,”37 is impassioned, seductive, and Colombe
imbues his lush instrument with emotion and vocal color worthy of the lyrics
and music. This recitative leads to a short duet with MËrope, “Heureux
qui peut gouster…,”38 where the two characters share their
anguish and “…our feelings of evil.”

Unbeknown to him, Giovanni Battista Luilli (November 28, 1632-March 22,
1687) left his humble origins in his native Florence in 1646 to become
Monsieur Jean Baptiste de Lully, and in the process he also became the
“Father of French Opera.”

At fourteen years of age he was, for all
intents and purposes, purchased from his family and taken to France by
Chevalier de Guise for servitude as garÁon de chanbre in the household of
his niece and cousin to the king, Mlle. De Montpensier. In time, Lully
studied keyboard, violin, and ballet, and after being released from Mlle. De
Montpensier’s household, he found a position at court. There, Lully quickly
rose to the post of surintendant de musique et compositeur de la musique de
for Louis XIV, and in 1662, the king elevated him to the post of
MaÓtre de musique.

At court, Lully worked with Moliere on several “mechanical” projects
for the stage39 and comediÈs-ballets which were highly
successful, culminating with Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670). For these
projects, Lully contributed dances, ballets, vocal music and complete
scenes—the experience of which he would later put to use in the development
of the TragediÈs lyriques, or more accurately, TragÈgedies en musique.40

At first, Lully was not enthusiastic about opera as a French art form; at
least, not until Pierre Perrin41 obtained a royal patent on June 28,
1669, to establish AcadÈmies d’OpÈra for the presentation of French prose
set to music. The AcadÈmie de poesie et de musique42 opened in Paris on March 3, 1671, with a
performance of Pomone,43 an opera with a text by Perrin and music
by Robert Cambert (1628-1677).44 It is generally acknowledged that this
production of Pomone encouraged Lully to pursue opera in French. Upon
Perrin’s imprisonment the following year,44 and over the objections of other
investors (Cambert among them), Lully, with the help of Louis XIV, succeeded
in taking over Perrin’s interest in the AcadÈmie patent. In exchange,
Lully paid off Perrin’s debts.45

Lully transformed Perrin’s AcadÈmie de poesie et de musique into his own
AcadÈmie Royal de Musique, today’s Paris OpÈra, and through a series of
other Royal Patents, he was able to acquire absolute monopoly on opera
production.46 Through his “favorite” status with
the king, Lully could dictate which singers sang in which theaters and how
many musicians could play in an orchestra outside of the AcadÈmie.47

Quinqult’s libretto for Lully’s PersÈe is loosely based on books IV and V
of Ovid’s Metamorphoses,48 dealing with the mythical hero’s defeat
of Medusa and his gallant rescue of AndromÈde.49 The opera portrays the fidelity and
true love between AndromÈde (Madame de Maintenon (November 27, 1635-April
15, 1719) the king’s new mistress and future wife) and PersÈe (Louis XIV);
more importantly, it glorifies the wisdom of the Sun King and his victories
over his rivals. “Medusa and her two hideous sisters cold not help but
remind [the king] of the threefold alliance conspiring against him in union
with the Prince of Orange: The United Provinces of Holland, Sweden and the
Holy Roman Emperor. The Monstrous force that terrified Andromeda was
threatening him as well, and Spain joined forces with it in May.”50 In the dedication of the work to the king, Lully
states the purpose of his composition: “I understand that in describing
the favorable gifts which PersÈe has received from the Gods and the
astonishing enterprises which he has achieved so gloriously, I am tracing a
portrait of the heroic qualities and the wonderful deeds of Your

Lully and Quinault purposely kept PersÈe absent in Act I;51 it was for the rest of the characters to
laud his virtues and to keep the thought of him as the unifying thread in the
opera—as in real life: the court, country, and the world, revolved around
the Sun King; his name, never far from anyone’s thoughts or lips. PersÈe’s
late entrance (Act II, Scene VI) also serves as a backdrop to the struggle
between the characters and eliminates the need for the hero to make a less
than “virtuous” decision by claiming the hand of the woman he loves—a
woman who is already committed to another man.52 It falls on AndromËde’s father,
CÈphÈe, to break the news to his brother PhinÈe by telling him that
PersÈe’s “worth will surprise you. Acknowledge the son of the most
powerful of the Gods…” and honor his courage.

The lead roles of AndromËde and PersÈe are well interpreted by Marie
Lenormand and Cyril Auvity.

Like most members of the cast in this production, French mezzo-soprano
Marie Lenormand is one of those singers whose successful career is virtually
unknown; yet, for over ten years she as been a frequent performer in North
America and Europe. In Houston, where she was a member of the Houston Grand
Opera Studio from 1999 to 2002, she appeared in two American premieres:
Lenorman originated the role of Thelma Predmore in Carlisle Floyd’s Cold
Sassy Tree
(2000) and The Fox, in Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince (2003).

Lenormand’s engaging stage presence and porcelain-doll-looks make her
ideal to play the conflicted role of AndromËde; then, there is her lustrous
voice. Lenormand possesses an enviable pitch perfect instrument, rich and
elegant with a rock solid technique and vivid phrasing.

An excellent singing actress, Lenormand’s winsome looks bely the strength
in her, and she runs the gamut of emotions with Coloumbe in “Croyez-moy.”
In “Infortunez qu’un monstre affreux…Il ne m’ayme que trop…,”53 Act II, Scene V, Lenormand’s soul
searching singing is at once poignant and painfully beautiful. An extended
scene follows with a sensitive duet between AndromËde and MËrope, “Vous
l’aymez;”54 where their voices are fluid and seamless in their
acknowledgment of their mutual love for PersÈe. Later, in Act IV,
Lenormand is eloquent and compelling as AndromËde, facing death, reminisces
over what could have been, “Dieux qui me destinez.”55

Lenormand imbues AndromËde’s duet with PersÈe, Act II, Scene 6, with
emotional and dramatic impact with her vulnerability at the realization that,
in spite of having rejected his advances, she does not love her betrothed,
PhinÈe, but PersÈe, “Vous m’aymez vainement….PersÈe, arrestez,
arrestez…Ah! Vostre pÈril….”56

PersÈe, though central to the action, is the least riveting character, to
not say the weakest.57 Of all the major characters in the
opera, he appears in only eleven scenes and sings in only six—and he has
fewer lines than the relatively minor character of Mercure. However, tenor
Cyril Auvity makes the best of the small part; he is well suited for the role
with his youthful looks and the innocent timbre of his instrument. In
contrast to the Sun King, this PersÈe is not virile or god-like, but heroic
nonetheless. Auvity is dedicated and focused in his duet with AndromËde,
Act II, Scene 6, “Ah! Vostre pÈril est estrÍme!”58 where his singing is flawless.

Of all the foreign and influential composers to settle in France,59 Lully was the first to achieve great
fame and prestige, and the one to exert the most influence on “French”
music, and on future generations of musicians and public, alike. Other
composers may have achieved more fame, a better reputation, or may today be
considered better composers, but only Lully achieved the well deserved title
of “Father of French Opera.”60

Lully succeeded doing in France what Handel failed to do in England: the
establishment of opera as a “national” art form—no small accomplishment
when one considers the reverence for the spoken word (followed by ballet) in
France. Unlike in Italy, where the voice and song had always had more
prominence and acceptance over the spoken word, in France, the veneration of
the theater combined with the negative image of Italian operatic
pyrotechnics, not suited to the French language, made the acceptance of
Italian opera, tenuous at best.

Not being credited with being a musical genius, Lully had an innate sense
of drama and an unequalled understanding of musical values and French
diction. He re-wrote the book on the use of recitative by replacing Italian
recitativo secco with accompanied recitative, better suited to the French
language. He made music subservient to the written word and insisted on
beautiful, “distinguished and elegant diction which is still one of the
glories of French lyric art.”61 For Lully, “[t]echnique and virtuosity were…less
important than rhythmic accuracy and finesse in performance.”62 Lully expanded the French penchant for “grace and
refinement” versus Italian “passion and emotion,” prevalent at the
time, and injected drama and continuity to the recitatives. He blurred the
line between recitative and aria; the use of “Italian” style arias with
unnecessary high notes and frivolous singing was extremely curtailed, if not

With Lully, the chorus and the ballet became an integral part of the
drama,63 and in some instances, of each
other,64 instead of a convenient prop to mask the
change of scenery, or, as it would become two centuries later, an employment
excuse for someone’s love interest.65 Lully also expanded the orchestra and
invented the French Overture,66 which he devised in three sections:
“…a slow, massive first movement, then a lively fugal movement, then a
melodious slow movement.”67 Lully wrote engaging music which presented
realistic, vivid images of storms, thunder, battles, and celestial, infernal
and pastoral settings. Aside from opera and orchestral music, Lully also
composed Church music.68

Originally presented in 2000 by Opera Atelier, this DVD (EuroArts DVD
2054178) of PersÈe is from the 2004 revival production filmed at the Elgin
Theater, Toronto, on April 28, 2004 and in cooperation with the CBC for
television broadcast. This presentation of Lully’s masterpiece goes a long
way to dispel the notion that opera has to be stripped naked or dressed a la
moderne in order to be approachable by new, or younger audiences. All it
has ever taken is a little historical knowledge and producers who are well
informed—not only about the score and libretto, but also about the
subtleties of time and place—just like the producers of this DVD are.
Overall, Lully’s PersÈe could not get any better than this.

This Opera Atelier production is appropriate for a XVII Century
performance at Versailles: Dora Rust-D’Eye’s historically informed costumes
are beautifully executed with superior attention to detail, and Gerard
Gaucci’s set design is faithful to the period. The stage is sparsely
decorated with parquet floors, Louis XIV bergËres and other period
furnishings. Panels, representing columns in a palace hall, line the sides
of the stage helping define the perspective; in the rear, different
back-drops denote the various locations in the libretto: arches for the
inside of the Ethiopian palace; a fountain to denote the gardens or the
outdoors; clouds with superimposed swirls of red for Medusa’s cave; stylized
boulders and cut out waves for the shoreline, etc.69 In typical Baroque fashion, there are
“mechanical” elements: Mercure’s “cloud” surrounded by the rays of
the sun, Venus’ castle, a “mechanical” dragon that threatens AndromËde,
singers and dancers that “fly,” etc.

Not all is “period” or stale; there are carefully placed updated
touches to appeal to modern audiences and to relieve some of the inherent
formality of the piece: Jeanette Zingg’s choreography shifts from
traditional and “action” dances to stylized “modern,” and
combinations of the two. Dora Rust-D’Eye’s dance costumes cleverly mix
contemporary idioms with traditional and baroque standards. In contrast to
the principal singers who are always in period costume, Medusa and her
sisters parody traditional ballet in their stylized movements and their
modern travesti dress, as do three dancing gods from Hades who are dressed in
flesh toned leotards adorned with swaths of red flames, or the two dancing
cyclops who appear almost nude.

The stage direction by Marshall Pynkoski is in line with what today is
known of Baroque stagings. Pynkoski has the singers behave as Greek actors,
and not singers: they use stylized limited hand and arm movements; at times
they stand stage front and sing to the audience rather than to each other,
most noticeable in the PersÈe-AndromËde love duet, “Ah! Vostre pÈril est
extrÍme!”70 There are other smart elements in
Pynkoski’s direction: unbeknown to the theater audience or DVD viewers, a
dancer replaces PersÈe for the hero’s and Mercure’s flight in search of
Medusa. PersÈe’s “flight” is in the form of grand JetÈs while Mercure
is carried away on a cloud.71 The dancer again re-appears as
PersÈe, when the hero attacks the sea monster and liberates AndromËde and,
later in Act V, in the sword-fight scene. Medusa and her sisters/Gorgons
are well acted as pouting “Drag Queens.” Though it originally received
some criticism, this directional choice is not offensive, and the
interpretation is valid: it would have been difficult for today’s
audiences, not familiar with Baroque opera, to understand the
travesti scene—it was the Baroque performance practice to use male voices
for unconventional, anomalous or ridiculous (as in comedy) female

There are other changes to the directions in the libretto; however, none
that would have made great or negative impact. Overall, the opera is
complete with some exceptions: as already mentioned, the Prologue was
eliminated, as was Scene 4 in Act III where the Gorgons try to kill an
invisible PersÈe after the hero’s slaying of Medusa. Also eliminated is
the beginning of Scene 7 in Act IV, prior to the Gigue, to avoid having both
the dancing and the singing PersÈe together on stage, at the same time.
The Ethiopians which follow the Gigue, in Act IV, Scene 7, are eliminated
and their lines are sung by Mercure.

There are moments when the all important diction in French could use some
improvement, or is not as clear as it could be; there are moments when a
note is a bit forced, or a singer is short of breath. Yet, in spite of
these minor moments, the young ensemble of singers is stellar, and displays a
consistent aura of professionalism and performance quality more seasoned
“stars” have yet to achieve. This group has also benefited from having
sung together in any number of different productions for Opera Atelier as
well as in other companies throughout North America.

Three other cast members are worthy of mention: Colin Ainsworth, Vilma
Vitols, and Curtis Sullivan. While none of these singers have a major
“star” role, they have charged their characters with larger importance
through their interpretations.

Colin Ainsworth’s lighty lyric tenor is an ideal instrument for Mercure
who, as sung by Ainsworth, borders on being a Castrato role. One of
Canada’s emerging mezzo-sopranos, Vilma Vitol has an expressive instrument;
she is capable of being a fierce Nymphe GuerriËre and a regal Venus. Had
it not been cut, it would have been interesting to see what Vitols would have
done in the Prologue, as Venus. Versatile Bass-Baritone Curtis Sullivan is
effective in his transformation from the lead Cyclop, to StÈnone, one of
Medusa’s travesti Gorgons, to the lead Triton (who also dances), to the Grand
PÍtre; the Gorgon being most memorable.73 To his many credits, Sullivan has
added the role of Bluebeardd in the premiere of Howard Alexander’s The Last
; Sullivan also appears as Sarastro, along with Olivier Laquerre, in The
Mozart Diaries

The all important Corps de Ballet so essential in Lully’s works, here
represented by the Artists of Atelier Ballet, is outstanding. The games for
Juno, the Gigue and the Passacaille, are particularly rewarding.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, under the direction of HervÈ Niquet,
and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir are without fault.

For a small company presenting a limited repertoire, and one that does not
involve the “war horses,” Opera Atelier rivals any company with a large
endowment and access to singers with more “star” power74

Lully died as he rose to power: in the service and under the protection
of the king. Aside from the many royal patents issued to the composer,
Lully was the beneficiary of the king’s personal friendship: they were
contemporaries, only five years apart, and as young men they had shared
participation in many dance performances at court.75

As king, Louis XIV saw that Lully was always at his side and the composer
was well rewarded for his dedication to the monarch. When Court gossip
reached a fever point, and Madame de Maintenon’s strict decorum was offended
by Lully’s openly homosexual lifestyle and public disregard to his marriage
vows, Louis XIV reprimanded the composer, but the king’s displeasure never
went further that that—a perk that no one else enjoyed at court. Lully
reciprocated the friendship and was well aware of the benefit of having the
king on his side. In the dedication of the score of PhaÎton, the composer
writes to the monarch, “…the approbation that Your Majesty has given to
this work has brought me the most profound joy I have yet felt…. It is
also an Academy, made up of numerous musicians, that I present to you. You
have given me permission to create it, I have devoted myself to its training
[and] I finally have the satisfaction of seeing that the greatest King who
ever ruled does not consider it unworthy of appearing before him.”

On January 6, 1687, the composer stubbed a toe while leading76 a Te Deum in celebration of the king’s
recovery from an illness. The wound did not heal properly and the composer
refused to have an operation to stop the spread of gangrene; he died two
months later, on March 22, 1687.

Lully was quoted in the Mercure de France saying that he had learned
everything by the age of seventeen, and that he had spent the rest of his
life perfecting that knowledge. Lully’s dedication to perfecting his
knowledge bore fruit in the TragÈdie Lyrique, “…the only important
independent offshoot of the Italian Baroque opera.”77 Eventually it rejoined its Italian counterpart but
not before putting its own stamp on the art form. Lully’s influence in
opera is extensive, not only in style and structure, but in the number of
other composers who followed his path.

“The public received this tragedy with an inexpressible satisfaction.
Each day this work’s brilliant and continued success makes obvious, even to
those most likely to let themselves be swept away the novelty’s charm, that
what is truly beautiful never ages and sooner than later will regain its

No, this is not a review of Opera Atelier’s Toronto performance, but one
that appeared in Le Mercure de France in 1737 for a Paris OpÈra revival of
Lully’s masterpiece, PersÈe. It is just as valid today.

Daniel Pardo © 2008

Liner Notes
Philippe Beaussant
© 1993 Harmonia Mundi

The Art of Singing
W. J. Anderson
© 1938 Dial Press
Dial Press, New York

Deborah Dunleavy

Dave Elkiakis

The Experience of Opera
Paul Henry Lang
© 1971 W.W. Norton & Co.
W.W. Norton & Co., New York

Great Composers 1300-1900
David Ewen
© 1966 H.W. Wilson Co.
H.W. Wilson Co., New York

The Great Singers
Henry Pleasants
© 1966 Henry Pleasants
Simon & Schuster, New York

George Frideric Handel
Paul Henry Lang
© 1966 W.W. Norton & Co.
W.W. Norton & Co., New York

The History of Music
Waldo Selden Pratt
© G. Shirmer, Inc.
G. Shirmer, New York

Journal of Seventeenth Century Music
Lois Rosow
© 2006 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

Louis XIV
John B. Wolf
© 1968 W.W. Norton & Co.
W.W. Norton & Co., New York

Monstrous Opera
Charles Dill
© Princeton University Press
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ

The New Grove
Grench Baroque Masters
© 1980 James R. Anthony, H. Wiley Hitchock,
Edward Higginbottom, Graham Sadler, Albert Cohen
W.W. Norton & Co.
New York-London

The New Penguin Opera Guide
Amanda Holden, Editor
© 1993, 1995, 2001 Amanda Holden
Penguin Books
New York, London

PersÈe (DVD)
Liner Notes
Mathias Hengelbrock
© 2005 Euro Arts Music International

PersÈe (CD)
Liner Notes
Jean Duron
© 2001 CMVB, Jean Duron

Touched by the Graces: The Libretti of Philippe Quinault
in the Context of French Classicism
Buford Norman
© 2001 Summa Publications, Inc.
Birmingham, AL

What we Hear in Music
Anne Shaw Faulkner
© 1913, 1916, 1917, 1921, 1924, 1928
The Victor Talking Machine Company
© 1929, 1931 RCA Victor Co., Inc.
© 1936, 1939 RCA Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Camden, NJ

1 Today’s standards of French Baroque
are based on written information from the XVIII century

2 The formal name of the Paris

3 The French referred to their operas a
“Lyric Tragedies” to emphasize the importance of language over music and
to differentiate their style from that of their Italian counterparts.

4 King Louis XIV (September 5,
1638-September 1, 1715) was a regular dancer at the ballet performances given
at Court theaters.

5 Poet Philippe Quinault was exiled for
his negative depiction of the king’s mistress, Madame de Montespan

6 Virtue: “Let us seek refuge from
the oppressive grandeur of pomp; this retreat is tranquil and attractive.”
A reference to Versailles as compared to the hectic life in Paris, and a
nod to Madame de Maintenon who, in spite of being the king’s new mistress,
was “puritanical” and a strict follower of court decorum.

7 Virtue: “The prizes I bear you
are not easily obtainable; they cost a thousand efforts and they make
thousands jealous….”

8 Antonio GarcÌa GutiÈrrez’ (July 5,
1812-August 6, 1884) El trovador (1836), later the basis for Verdi’s Il
trovatore, comes to mind.

9 AndromÈde’s entrance, Act II, Scene
V; PersÈe’s entrance, Act II, Scene VI, etc.

10 Laquerre plays dual roles in this
performance: CÈphÈ, the king of Ethiopia, and the Gorgon, Medusa.

11 “I fear that Juno might

12 “The gods punish

13 Laquerre won First Prize

14 “I have lost my beauty.”

15 “Joyful wife, joyful mother,”
and “Through a cruel punishment,” respectively

16 “Oh! Juno, powerful

17 “Oh! Such dreadful

18 “Alas, I am going to lose my

19 “It is my deadly vanity”

20 The son of a Paris
master baker, French poet, dramatist, and librettist, Philippe Quinault (June
3, 1635, Paris-November 26, 1688, Paris) was educated at the urging and with
the help of FranÁoise Tristan l’Hermite, author of Marianne, and for whom
the young man worked as a valet. From 1646 to 1651, Quinault studied with
MaÓtre ÍcrivanPhilippe Mareschal who taught him enough Latin to enable the
student to qualify for studies at the CollËge du Cardinal Lemoyne. At the
age of eighteen, Quinault successfully staged his frist play, the comedy, Les
Rivalesin 1653,at the HÙtel de Bourgogne. He wrote close to twenty other
comedies, tragi-comedies, and tragedies, in the next seventeen years: La
mËre coquette(1653; La gÈnerÈuse ingratitude(1654); L’amant indiscret ou
le MaÓtre Ètourdi(1654); La comÈdie sans comÈdie(1655); Les coups de
l’Amour et de la Fortunein collaboration with Tristan (1655); Le marriage de
Cambyse(1656); Fedra(1656); Amalasonte(1657); Le feint Alcibiade(1658); Le
fantÙme amoreux(1659); La mort de Cyrus(1659); Stratonice(1660); Agrippa
ou le faux Tiberinus(1662); Astrate, roi de Tyr(1664); La mÍre
coquette(1665); La grotte de Versailles(1668); Pausanias(1668); and

Success was not slow in coming. After the premiere of Les Rivales, Quinault
became a lawyer, and in 1660 married a wealthy widow, Louise Goujon, whose
finances helped him secure a position at court as “escuyer, valet de
chambre du Roi.” Quinault was elected to the AcadÈmie FranÁaise in 1670,
and became one of the original members of the AcadÈmie Royale des
Inscriptions et Medailles, better known as “Le Petite AcadÈmie,” in

After much fame and success, the turning point in Quinault’s career came in
1671 when, along with MoliËre and Corneille (who provided the spoken
dialogue), he was asked to contribute the poetry for PsychÈwhich was set to
music by Lully, and for whom Quinault wrote thirteen other libretti: two
large scale ballets, Le triomphe de l’amour(1681), and Le temple de la
paix(1685), and eleven operas.

While Boileau, La Fontaine and Racine, among others, delighted in criticizing
Quinault’s verses as long winded and monotonous, and for adding more than
necessary importance to secondary characters, Quinault’s genius rests in his
mastery of the language and his ability to suggest so much with so few words;
he, more than most, understood and applied the importance of pitch in the
voice as it rises or falls, and the timing and length of a pause to heighten
the meaning of a word. His years as a playwright gave Quinault unusual
insight into the musicality of words and lyric poetry, which he put to great
use in the libretti he wrote for Lully.

Quinault organized words into certain patterns to denote, intensify, or
emphasize the dramatic situation or mental state of the characters, and to
fit the speed of delivery by the addition or deletion of a vowel or
consonant. Lully, who organized sounds in a similar fashion, easily
understood Quinault’s technique, and wrote appropriate music to heighten the
intensity of the prose.

Aside from plays and libretti, Quinault also wrote more than sixty airs,
divertissements, and several ballet plots, Lysis et HerpÈrie(1660); Les
ballet des muses(1666); Les fÍtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus(1672); Le
triomphe de l’amour(1681), and Le Temple de la paix(1685) among them.

Little known today, Philippe Quinault was, in his lifetime and for many years
after, on a par with the greatest men of letters: he worked alongside of
MoliËre and Corneille, his rivalry with Racine is the stuff of legend, and
his plays enjoyed long runs; many were played well into the Nineteenth
Century. Of the eleven opera libretti Quinault wrote for Lully, four were
used by later composers: Armide(Gluck and Myslivecek); Atysand
Roland(Piccini); and Prosperine(Paisiello).

Ill health forced Quinault to request the release from his post as official
librettist. In April 1686 the king, Louis XIV, granted the writer a pension
and decorated him with the Order of Saint-Michel. Quinault was 53 years old
when he died two years later, on November 26, 1688.

21 Madame de Montespan, October 5,
1641-May 27, 1707

22 Vis a vis the discarded
mistress, Madame de Montespan

23 By 1667, FranÁoise-AthÈnaÔs de
Rochechouard-Mortemart (October 15-May 27, 1707), marquise de Montespan, had
replaced Louise de la ValliËre as the king’s mistress; a position she held
until the king fancied FranÁoise d’Aubigne, Madame Scarron (1635-1719), the
governess to the King’s and Madame de Montespan’s illegitimate children. In
1675, Louis XIV gave d’Aubigne the title of Madame de Maintenon and by the
time of PersÈe’s first performance (1682), she had become the official
mistress to the king. They were secretly married in 1683.

24 The king, CÈphÈe; his wife,
Cassiope; her sister, Merope; and the king’s brother PhinÈe.

25 Madame de Montespan eventually
joined a convent.

26 “The son of Jupiter adores
her…My conqueror even to this day.”

27 “I would die of shame and

28 “I would fain keep my

29 “The possibility of their
marriage satisfies my desires and is my last hope”… “What differences
are capable of breaking such elegant knots?”

30 “Oh!

31 Monica
Whicher Web Page

32 “Believe me, believe me.”

33 “He is loved by those he

34 “We share the same pain.”

35 “Hearts in love and jealous are
a hundred times more troubled than you.”

36 “The gods are intent on seeking
revenge; I can barely conceal the pleasure.”

37 “What could her anger not

38 “Happy is the mortal who can
enjoy such sweet revenge”

39 “In its formative
years in the seventeenth century, opera seria was more spectacle than music,
and the early Venetian stage mechanics and scene painters contrived wondrous
representations of battles, earthquakes, floods, thunder and lighting,
conflagrations and fat clouds bursting to reveal heavenly choirs….The most
elaborate of such productions were reserved for special occasions—a
coronation, a royal wedding or birth, [or] a state visit….” Pleasants,
1966, pg. 30

In this respect, French and Italian stage presentations were no
different: a visual orgy of mechanical fantasy, elaborate scenery and
spectacular costumes. This practice originated in 1637 Venice with the
first opera to be publicly performed, Andromeda, text by Benedetto Ferrari
(c. 1603-1681) and music by Francesco Manelli (1595-1667).

40 At this time in France, the term
“Opera” was reserved for works composed in the “Italian” style.

41 Born in Lyon, Pierre Perrin
(1620-1675) arrived in Paris in 1628; there, he worked in the household of
the Duke of Orleans. Perrin was a poet, a dancer, and dabbled in music.

42 The precurson to the AcadÈmie
Royal de musique

43 In spite of the many setbacks that
befell the opening of the Paris AcadÈmie, Pomoneenjoyed an eight month

44 Composer Robert Cambert
(1628-1677) first appears in Paris as an organist and by 1627 he had set some
of Perrin’s poems to music. Two years later they cooperated on the
Pastorale d’Issy which was followed by a commission from Cardinal Mazarin for
another Pastorale, Ariane, ou Le mariage de Bacchus. Along with Perrin,
Cambert obtained a privilege to establish Royal AcadÈmies, the first of
which opened in Paris in 1671 with Cambert’s and Perrin’s opera,
Pomone. After Perrin’s imprisonment and Lully’s ascent, Cambert went to
the court of Charles II in England where, in 1677, he committed suicide.

Perrin’s partership with Robert Cambert, the Marquis de SourdÈac and Laurent
Bersac, Sieur de Champeron, had a promising start, but from early on there
were managerial and financial problems which culminated with embezzlement.
Three months into the run of Pomone, the singers had not been paid, and
twice Perrin was incarcerated for debt and eventually forced to sell part of
his interest to his associates

45 In order to silence the
opposition, Louis XIV ordered the Lieutenant of Police to close down Perrin’s
theater. The king also revoked all privileges previously granted to
Perrin—in effect eliminating any claims by Perrin’s partners to the 1669

46 Even more than Perrin whose patent
gave him a monopoly on opera production for only 12 years

47 Lully has been accused of being
ruthless and greedy. In retrospect, he acted in accordance to the standard
of the time and as everyone else did in order to survive the self-serving and
backstabbing court environment. If anything, Lully may have been more
restrained and savvier than other courtiers: early on, Louis XIV had
granted Lully a patent to nobility which entitled the composer to the
aristocratic “de” before his last name. Lully waited to put the patent
to use until after purchasing the post of SecrÈaire du Roi, in 1681, at a
time when no one could dispute his position, prestige, and power at court.
From then on, the composer signed his name “de Lully” and was addressed
as “Monsieur de Lully”

48 The character of MÈrope was
borrowed by Quinault from a Venetian opera on the same subject, Andromeda,
with libretto by Benedetto Ferrari, music by Francesco Manelli

49 PersÈe is faithful to the
structure of the pastorale en musique which Lully collaborated with Moliere:
prologue, five acts, aristocratic escapism, elaborate stagings, etc.

50 PersÈe CD Liner Notes, pg. 25

51 In this DVD, PersÈe and
AndromËde make cameo appearances in Act I. In this and in subsequent acts
other characters, too, make cameo appearances contrary to the directions in
the libretto

52 When confronted by AndromËde
(“If you were to win…would you seek to break these bonds?”), PersÈe
replies with “kingly” virtue: “I shall be unhappy…[b]ut I shall die
contented if you can live happily.”

53 “Unfortunate those, whom a
terrible monster…He loves me much….”

54 “You love

55 “Gods, you who have predestined

56 “No, do not delude yourself[,]
you love me in vain; Phineus has won my heart….What, are you leaving me
forever, Perseus? Stay, stay…You are in extreme peril!…Oh gods! Save
him whom I love.”

57 One wonders why Louis XIV would
have picked the subject matter for this opera. The hero in Ovid’s tales
does not so much conquer Medusa on his own merits as Louis XIV had done to
conquer his enemies. PersÈe is aided by the gods to become invisible, he
is given a protective shield, a sword, and wings to aid him in his venture
while Medusa is put to sleep, therefore rendering her helpless and an easy
prey for PersÈe’s execution. There are, however, attributes in the
mythological hero which the Sun King may have seen as a parallel: PersÈe’s
favorite status with the gods and his dedication and victory over evil for
the benefit and protection of the people of Ethiopia. Like all kings,
before and after him, Louis XIV believed in the Divine Right to rule and he
viewed himself as the benevolent protector of the people.

58 “Ah! You are in extreme

59 Gluck, Cherubini, Spontini,
Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Rossini, Hahn, Stravinsky and others settled in France,
where they became internationally known.

60 Though the title of “Father of
French Opera” is well suited for Lully, the title of “First Composer”
of French opera goes to Robert Cambert, MaÓtre de Musiqueto the Queen
Mother, Anne of Austria. His opera, Pomone(1671), was an immediate success
when it premiered at the AcadÈmie. Some say that Cambert’s earlier work,
Pastorale d’Issy(1659) is the first French play set to music; however, that
honor goes to Charles de Bey’s and Michel de La Guerre’s Le triomphe de
l’Amour(1655). Pierre Corneille’s AndromËdawas the first work to
incorporate the different arts in a French machine play

61 Henderson, 1938, p.137

62 Anthony, 1980, p. 42

63 In PersÈe, the libretto calls for
a ballet in all acts except Act III which calls for the actors to

64 Medusa and her Gorgons are
required to move around the stage in a stylized “dance” and one triton is
required to sing, as well

65 The ballet in the French Grand
Opera of the Nineteenth Century always took place in the third act to
coincide with the entrance into the theater of the well to do male patrons,
whose mistresses were members of the corps de ballet

66 This style of “Overture”
influenced Handel, Bach, and Haydn who used its structure in the development
of the Sonata

67 History of Music, 1907, p. 241

68 With MoliËre, Lully wrote the
Comedies-Ballets: Le mariage forcÈ(1664); La princesse d’Elide(1664);
L’amour mÈdicin(1665); Le Sicilien(1667); Georges Dandin(1668); Monsieur de
Purceaugnac(1669); Les amants magnifiques(1670) and Le Bourgeois

Lully composed a number of TragÈdies en musique, most to a libretto by
Philippe Quinqult: Les fÍtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus(Pastiche assembled
by P. Quinault from fragments of different ballets, 1672); Cadmus et
Hermione(P. Quinault, 1673); Alceste(P. Quinault, 1674); ThÈsÈe(P.
Quinault, 1675); Atys(P. Quinault, 1676); Isis(P. Quinault, 1677);
PsychÈ(Thomas Corneille, 1678); BellÈrophon(T. Corneille and Berbard le
Bovier de Fontenelle, 1679); Prosperine(P. Quinault 1680); PersÈe(P.
Quinault, 1682); PhaÎton(P. Quinault, 1683); Amadis de Gaule(P. Quinault,
1684); Roland(P. Quinault, 1685);Armide(P. Quinault, 1686); Acis et
GalathÈe(Pastoral-hÈroÔque in prologue and three acts by Jean Galbert de
Campistron, 1686); Achille et PolixËne(J. Galbert de Campistron, produced
posthumously,1687) Choral Music: Motets for 2 Choirs (1684); Miserere
(1664); Te Deum (1677); De Profundis (1683); 5 Grand Motets (1685)

69 Just as in Lully’s time, this kind
of staging is necessitated by the need to house the many dancers required for
the ballets in the opera. In some scenes, the limited size of the Elgin
Theater also necessitated the use of side, proscenium boxes for the chorus
and other singers

70 “Ah! Your peril is extreme.”
Act II, Scene 6

71 There is no mention of the
dancer’s name in the credits, but the benefit of “rewind” gives the DVD
viewers an advantage over those present in the theater. Though the dancing
double looks like, and is dressed just like PersÈe, one can tell them apart,
in the close-up shots, in what little of the face remains to be seen under
the helmet

72 One criticism of the comedic
aspect of this scene is that by the time of PersÈe, “comedy” had
disappeared from Lully’s operas

73 Sullivan also makes a cameo
appearance in a non speaking role in Act V, Scene 8

74 Until recently, Baroque opera,
with the exception of Mozart, some Gluck and Handel, is not as well known in
the United States and few companies risk giving such performances: audience
interest is limited. One exception is New York City Opera’s commitment to
presenting all of Handel’s operas, as well as presenting Monteverdi, Gluck,
and Rameau. Other than scenes or arias in concerts, starting in 1884, the
Met ventured into this territory with Handel’s Messiah in 1895 and again in
1902. After an eighty two year hiatus, Handel returned with a production of
Rinaldo (1984), Samson (1986), Giulio Cesare (1988, 1999, 2000, 2007), and
Rodelinda (2004, 2005, 2006). Gluck has fared better starting with Orfeo et
Euridice (1885, 1891, 1893, 1895, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1914, 1936, 1938,
1941, 1955, 1957, 1962, 1970, 1972, 2007), Armide (1910, 1911, 1912),
Iphiginie en Tauride (1916, 2007), and Alceste (1941, 1952, 1960). Rameau
is absent and Monteverdi is represented as part of a concert with one
performance of L’Orfeo, sung in English (1912).

75 On February 23, 1653, fifteen
year old Louis XIV and Lully took part in Ballet de la nuit—an allegory to
the passing of time from night to day, from darkness to light. First
performed at the the Louvre, Salle du Petit-Bourbon, the ballet was
commissioned to celebrate the defeat of the Fronde and the king’s return to
Paris. There are conflicting stories as to who the librettist or the
composer was, though some attribute the music to Lully.

From birth, Louis XIV has been associated with the Sun. In his monumental
biography, Louis XIV, historian John B. Wolf relates how the French mint
struck a coin to commemorate the long awaited birth of a male heir to the
French throne: twenty three years. The coin bore the inscription Orbus
Solis Gallici(Thus rises the sun of France) in reference, as was the custom,
to classical antiquity, its myths and legends and the association of kings
and rulers with the life-giving sun, or Apollo, God of the Sun.

However, it is generally accepted that it is from the character of the same
name that the king danced in Ballet de la nuit, and the lithographs of the
king in costume, that the sobriquet of “The Sun King” became forever
associated with Louis XIV.

76 Louis XIV was the first monarch to
have a court “conductor” in the modern sense of the word.

77 Lang, Experience of Opera 1971,

image_description=Jean-Baptiste Lully: PersÈe
product_title=Jean-Baptiste Lully: PersÈe
product_by=Cyril Auvity, Marie Lenormand, Stephanie Novacek, Monica Whicher, Olivier Laquerre, Alain Coulombe. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. HervÈ Niquet, conductor. Directed for Stage by Marshall Pynkoski. Directed for TV by Marc Stone.
product_id=EuroArts 2054178 [DVD]