Opera Scotland

Alceste ou Le triomphe d'Alcide; Alceste, or The Triumph of Hercules

Tours by decade

Tours by location


Jean-Baptiste Lully (born Florence, 28 November 1632; died Paris, 22 March 1687).


Philippe Quinault (1635-1688)


Tragedy (438 BC) by Euripides.



First Performance: Paris (Jeu de Paume du Bel-Air). 19 January 1674.

First Performance in UK: Edinburgh (George Square Theatre), 17 February 1971.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



As a talented child, Giovanni Battista Lulli was taken to France, and quickly entered service at the court of Louis XIV. He dominated the provision of music at court throughout his life. The musical forms he perfected, particularly the five-act tragédie lyrique, set the standard that held sway in France for the next century, dominating the operatic work of Rameau and influencing Gluck. The five-act format, with its extensive dance sequences, also set the pattern for the development of Parisian grand opéra in the nineteenth century. His skilled political manoeuvring is generally seen as having a detrimental effect on the careers of other composers, particularly Marc-Antoine Charpentier.


Main Characters

Alceste, wife of Admète (soprano)

Céphise, her companion (soprano)

Admète, prince of Thessaly (tenor)

Alcide (Hercules), friend of Admète (baritone)

Licomède, King of Skyros (bass)

Charon, ferryman on the Styx (bass)

Pluto, lord of the Underworld (bass)

Proserpine, his wife (soprano)


Plot Summary

Offstage, the marriage of Admète to Alceste takes place, after which his elderly father, Phérès, abdicates to allow his son to take the throne. Alcide confesses to Lychas that he finds his friend Admète's marriage unbearable because he also loves Alceste. Straton is also distressed. He loves Céphise, who no longer loves him, and who is also, by nature, fickle. Licomède tells Céphise that he also loves Alceste. The wedding party enters amid celebratory dancing, and Licomède propses that entertainment should continue on his ship. However only Alceste and Céphise are on board when the gangplank gives way, allowing Licomède and Straton to sail away with their captives.

On Skyros, Céphise tries to persuade Straton to release her, while Alceste awaits the rescue she knows will come. Licomède, unable to convince Alceste to accept him instead, now hates Admète. The rescue party arrives, and in killing Licomède, Admète is himself mortally wounded.

Apollo decrees that Admète can only be saved if a friend will give up his life instead. Phérès is too old. Céphise considers that she is too young. Just as Cléante is announcing the king's imminent death, Admète comes in, fully recovered, but it is discovered that Alceste has died instead. Alcide proposes that he should try to recue Alceste from the Hades, with but one condition, that the rescued Alceste should then be his. Admète agrees.

Shades of the dead queue up to take the ferry across the Styx, though Charon will only accept those who can pay. The arrival of a living passenger, Alcide, breaks all the rules. Alceste is warmly welcomed by her host and hostess. The arrival of Alcide is misinterpreted by Pluto as a threat to his own position, but his wife persuades him to restore Alceste to life.

There is widespread rejoicing at Alceste's return. Admète is wretched, knowing that they will not be reunited. Lychas and Straton have not succeeded in finding a wife. Céphise assures them that marriage is the last thing they need, and that passion will survive more easily without it. When Alceste arrives with Alcide, the emotional farewell between Admète and Alceste affects Alcide to the extent that he is now able to give up his claim on her, conquering love as he has already conquered death. The celebration now becomes general.

The Cast

 son of King Phérès
 wife of Admète
 friend of Admète (Hercules)
 servant of Pluto
 Alceste's companion
 ferryman on the Styx
 a courtier
Femme affligée
First Nymph
First Triton
 King of Skyros
 friend of Alcide
Ombre rebutée
 King of Thessaly
 Pluto, Lord of the Underworld
 wife of Pluto
Second Nymph
Second Triton
 a nobleman from Skyros

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha