Opera Scotland

Hippolyte et Aricie Hippolytus and Aricia

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Jean-Philippe Rameau (born Dijon, 25 September 1683; died Paris, 12 September 1764).


Simon-Joseph Pellegrin.


Tragedy Phèdre (1677) by Racine (1639-1699), and classical sources.



First Performance: Paris (Opéra - Académie Royale de Musique), 1 October 1733.

First Performance in UK: Birmingham (Barber Institute), 13 May 1965.

First Performance in Scotland: N/A.



Rameau enjoyed a long and successful career as the greatest composer of opera, particularly the five-act tragédie-lyrique, in France in succession to Lully and Charpentier. Hippolyte et Aricie was the first of these works, premiered in 1733. The final one, Les Boréades, considered by some to be his masterpiece, was in rehearsal at the time of his death, as a result of which performances were cancelled. It was only performed complete for the first time in 1975. Hippolyte et Aricie has tragic elements in the suicide of Phaedra and the humbling of Theseus, but it also has a rather forced happy ending imposed, rather than having Hippolytus killed.

While Hippolyte has not yet yet been performed in Scotland, the Glyndebourne staging of 2013 featured in a relay to cinemas. The British premiere in 1965 was one of a series of rare baroque works mounted under the guidance of Sir Anthony Lewis at the Barber Institute in Birmingham. This was one of the first performances in Britain of a Rameau work, and featured Janet Baker and Robert Tear as Phèdre and Hippolyte. There was a memorable staging given a single performance at Covent Garden as part of the 1978 English Bach Festival. With conductor Jean-Claude Malgoire, the cast included Carolyn Watkinson (Phèdre), Ian Caddy (Thesée), and John Tomlinson (Jupiter and Pluton). The title roles were taken by Ian Caley and Marilyn Hill Smith.


Main Characters

Thesée - Theseus, King of Athens (bass)

Phèdre - Phaedra, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Hippolyte - Hippolytus, son of Theseus (tenor)

Aricie - Aricia, daughter of Pallas (soprano)

Diane - Diana (soprano)

Pluton - Pluto (bass)


Plot Summary

Theseus has defeated Pallas, and only Aricia survives of his family. She is to be forced to take the veil in the temple of Diana. But she and Hippolytus love one another, and Diana herself has sworn to protect them. This infuriates Phaedra, stepmother of Hippolytus, who rules in her husband's absence. This is because Theseus has gone to Hades in a forlorn rescue mission. His father, Neptune, helps him escape back to earth, but it is forecast that his life really will become hellish.

Phaedra, in the belief that she is a widow, offers herself to Hippolytus. Rejected, she attempts suicide. Just as Hippolytus prevents this and retrieves his sword from her, Theseus arrives, and wrongly concludes that it is his son who was assaulting his wife. Hippolytus is forced to flee, and takes Aricia to the sacred grove of Diana, where an elaborate dance entertainment takes place. Hippolytus is then carried off by a sea monster (Theseus had begged Neptune to punish Hippolytus), and is presumed dead. Phaedra is now wracked with guilt, and confesses the truth before killing herself. Theseus is punished for his reckless punishment of Hippolytus by being fated never to see him again. Hippolytus and Aricia are reunited in the grove of Diana.

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