TRAGÉDIE LYRIQUE IN ONE PROLOGUE AND FIVE ACTS
Libretto by Philippe Quinault
At the court of the Sun King all the available art forms were expected to join together in praise of the monarchy: in the tragédies lyriques song, poetry, dance and spectacular sets merged to form an artistic synthesis. At the premiere of Thésée, for example, flying demons or an enchanted banquet not only became highlights of the action on stage but were above all transformed into an acoustically spectacular experience by Jean-Baptiste Lully’s colourful music. The varied score features virtuoso trumpet fanfares, but also ardent poetry: the perfect piece for Christophe Rousset and his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques. The plot centres on the war hero Theseus who, however, finds himself embroiled not so much in military conflicts but romantic ones with Princess Aegle and the sorceress Medea.
In French with German surtitles
Introduction to the work 30 minutes before the performance
Les Talens Lyriques
Chœur de chambre de Namur
Prologue The allegories of love, beauty, pleasure and play withdraw from Versailles to the surrounding area because they are saddened by the absence of King Louis XIV due to the war. Not even the goddess Venus can stop them going and she demands that Mars restore peace quickly. Mars calms her down by explaining that the Sun King, as the new Mars, will soon restore France’s glory.
Act I Athens is at war. Princess Aegle awaits the outcome of the fighting with her confidante Cleone. She is in love with the warrior Theseus. The Athenian army does indeed emerge victorious, and King Aegeus asks Aegle to marry him. He wants to break off his engagement to the sorceress Medea and marry her to Theseus instead.
Act II Medea has long since lost her faith in men. Her confidante Dorine – who is suffering a lover’s grief herself – advises her to make Theseus fall in love with her. When she learns of the end of her engagement to Aegeus she stays calm and immediately turns her attentions to the warrior. Theseus explains to Medea that he cannot enter any kind of relationship with her because of his love for Aegle. Controlling her feelings of jealousy, Medea pretends to show understanding.
Act III Aegle and Cleone are waiting for Theseus and learn in the meantime that the King is adamant about his marriage plans. Aegle confides in Medea and confesses to her that she loves Theseus. Medea replies that she too is in love with Theseus and advises her to marry the King. With her magical powers she opens the gates of hell and has Aegle tortured by monsters.
Act IV Medea now has Theseus threatened as well, and forces Aegle to watch. The princess then promises to give up Theseus and marry the King. But Theseus does not want a relationship with the sorceress and continues to court Aegle, revealing to her that he is the son of King Aegeus. He tells her that he has not revealed his true identity to anyone else. Medea pretends to accept the love between Aegle and Theseus.
Act V Medea plans her revenge and persuades Aegeus to poison Theseus. But when Theseus swears loyalty to the King, drawing his sword as he does so, Aegeus recognises from the weapon that Theseus is his son and abandons all his plans. He gives Theseus permission to marry Aegle. In her fury, Medea makes the palace go up in flames, but at the very last moment the goddess Minerva appears and brings everything to a happy ending.