Opera Scotland

Zoroastre Zarathustra

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Jean-Philippe Rameau (born Dijon, c25 September 1683; died Paris, 12 September 1764)


Louis de Cahusac.


Loosely after ancient Persian literature.



First performance: Paris (Opéra), 5 December 1749.

Revised version: Paris (Opéra), 19 January 1756.

First UK performance: London (Royal Albert Hall), 18 July 1998 (concert).

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Usher Hall), 24 August 2001 (concert).

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



Given the success of the first visit to Edinburgh by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants in 1985, it was strange that they should have taken more than fifteen years before a return visit, and even then only in concert form. Still, this was a superb performance of what turned out to be an excellent work. It seems probable that this was the first performance in Scotland of a full-length opera by Rameau. Sadly, it has not led either to more Rameau performances or any more visits by William Christie’s wonderful group.


Main Characters

Zoroastre, founder of the Magi (tenor)

Amélite, heiress to the throne of Bactria (soprano)

Érinice, a rival for the throne (soprano)

Abramane, a sorcerer and High Priest of Arimane (bass)

Oromasès, king of the Genii (bass)


Plot Summary

The action represents the conflict between good (Zoroastre) and evil (Abramane) in the context of the Persian religion – a distinct novelty in Baroque opera, which was dominated by works derived from the Greek and Roman classics.  There is clearly also an element in the plot influenced by Freemasonry, particularly fashionable in the eighteenth century.

The king of Bactria has just died, leaving a disputed succession, with Amelite, representing good, opposed by Érinice. Zoroastre, who loves Amélite and has therefore rejected the advances of Érinice, is now hated by her. Abramane has succeeded in having Zoroastre exiled, and Amélite is imprisoned. Oromasès orders Zoroastre to return and rescue her, by which means he will expel evil from the world. Érinice’s attempt to force Amélite to renounce the throne is foiled by Zoroastre’s return. Abramane has an argument with Érinice about how to proceed with their schemes. Zoroastre, Amélite and their followers assemble to worship the return of the sun, and perform their marriage, but are interrupted by the appearance of Abramane in a fiery chariot. Everyone flees, leaving the city in flames. In his temple, Abramane performs ceremonies to conjure up evil spirits to assist him. Érinice, now repenting of her evil ways, warns Zoroastre of Abramane’s plans. Amelite has been abducted again, and Abramane demands that Zoroastre surrender. However he prays to heaven and a thunderbolt destroys Abramane and his priests. In a ceremony to worship the sun Oromasès releases Amélite, and she and Zoroastre are united on the throne.



ERATO (3 CDs) recorded 2001.

Conductor: William Christie

Les Arts Florissants.

Mark Padmore (Zoroastre); Gaëlle Méchaly (Amélite),

Anna Maria Panzarella (Érinice), Nathan Berg (Abramane),

A week after the memorable performance in Edinburgh, the company made this recording on their return to France, and the set is self-recommending. William Christie produces a wonderfully lively account of the score. Mark Padmore has no trouble with his high-lying music, and the voices of the rival princesses are nicely differentiated.

The Cast

 High Priest of Ariman
 heiress to the Bactrian throne
 a subterranean voice
 a Bactrian girl at Amélite's court
 a rival claimant to the Bactrian throne
La Vengeance
 priest of Ariman
 king of the Genii
 priest of Ariman
 founder of the Magi

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