Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Thésée LWV 51 (1675)
Tragédie lyrique en un prologue et cinq actes
sur un livret de Philippe Quinault
créée le 15 janvier 1675 à Saint Germain-en-Laye
Thésée Mathias Vidal
Médée Karine Deshayes
Aeglé Déborah Cachet
Cleone / Cérès Marie Lys
Minerve / La Grande Prêtresse de Minerve Bénédicte Tauran
Dorine / Vénus / Une bergère Thaïs Raï
Bacchus / Un plaisir / Un vieillard / Un berger Robert Getchell
Un plaisir / Un vieillard / Un combattant Fabien Hyon
Egée Philippe Estèphe
Arcas / Mars / Un plaisir Guilhem Worms
Choeur de Chambre de Namur (dir. Thibaut Lenaerts)
Les Talens Lyriques
Direction Christophe Rousset
Flush of the success of the 2022 Psyché, which celebrated the Talens Lyriques’ 30th anniversary, Christophe Rousset and his ensemble continue their tribute to Lully by interpreting Thésée. This work marks the third time that Lully composed a tragédie lyrique with his librettist Philippe Quinault. The author had chosen to focus the plot on the eponymous character’s youth, drawing primarily from Ovid’s Metamorphoses version of the legend and thus eschewing those episodes that are considered emblematic of the Theseus myth, like his confrontation with the Minotaur.
Even more than in their first tragédies lyriques (1673’s Cadmus et Hermione and 1674’s Alceste), Lully and Quinault composed Thésée to glorify Louis XIV, with the aim of impressing foreign ambassadors during its 1675 premiere. The work assimilates the king to Theseus, namely through his heroic qualities: an illustrious origin, bravery, and passionate love. Set in the Versailles château, the prologue praises the royal residence, which was being expanded at the time of the performance. Thésée also establishes a parallel to contemporary political events, since the idea of Theseus liberating the assieged Athens recalls the 1672-1678 conflict between France and Holland.
Thésée was already acclaimed at its premiere. Contemporary critics emphasized how extravagant the scenery and costumes were, and how perfectly matched the words and music. Its dramatic scenes alternate with more intimate episodes that highlight the characters’ feelings. Lully thus explored a wide expressive array and asserted his mastery in writing recitatives and small soloist ensembles, instrumental pieces (this is evident in the brilliant sound created particularly by the presence of trumpets and timpani), and numerous choruses, that participate in the action. Above all, in this work, Lully created his first true dramatic heroine, the sorceress Medea, who would serve as a model for subsequent tragédies lyriques. Taken together, these characteristics earned the admiration “of the laypeople and the scholars” according to Lecerf de la Viéville; Thésée was thus the Lully tragédie lyrique that remained the longest in the Royal Academy of Music’s performance repertoire.
“Thésée is one of Lully’s earliest tragédies lyriques and already a striking and very accomplished work. The composer’s mastery is, as always, amazing.
I am delighted to continue our Lully cycle with my faithful team of soloists, as well as some wonderful new voices: Mathias Vidal, as Thésée, for example, and Karine Deshayes as the sorceress Médée.”
– Christophe Rousset