Zoroaster") is an operaby Jean-Philippe Rameau, first performed on 5 December, 1749at the Opéra in Paris. The librettois by Louis de Cahusac. "Zoroastre" was the fourth of Rameau's "tragédies en musique" to be staged and the last to appear during the composer's own lifetime. Audiences gave the original version a lukewarm reception, so Rameau and his librettist thoroughly reworked the opera for a revival which took place at the Opéra on 19 January, 1756. This time the work was a great success and this is the version generally heard today. ["Viking" p.842; Sadler p.19]
"Zoroastre"'s premiere in 1749 was not a success; despite the magnificence of the staging, it failed to compete with
Mondonville's new " opéra-ballet" "Le carnaval du Parnasse". Rameau and Cahusac decided to rework the opera completely before offering it to the public again in 1756. Acts 2,3 and 5 were heavily rewritten and there were several modifications to the plot. This time audiences took to the opera, although the critic Melchior Grimmwas withering about Cahusac's libretto: "In "Zoroastre" it is day and night alternately; but as the poet...cannot count up to five he has got so muddled in his reckoning that he has been compelled to make it be day and night two or three times in each act, so that it might be day at the end of the play". "Zoroastre" was chosen to open the new Paris opera house on January 26 1770, the old one having burned down in 1763. It was also translated into Italian by Casanovafor a performance in Dresdenin 1752, although some of Rameau's music was replaced by that of the ballet master Adam. Its first modern revival was in a concert version at the Schola Cantorum, Paris in 1903. [Girdlestone pp.278-279]
Libretto and music
"Zoroastre" includes some important innovations: it was the first major French opera to dispense with an allegorical prologue and its subject matter is not drawn from the
Classical mythologyof Greece and Rome, as was usual, but from Persian religion. There was good reason for this. As Graham Sadler writes, the opera is "a thinly disguised portrayal of Freemasonry". Cahusac, the librettist, was a leading French Mason and many of his works celebrate the ideals of the Enlightenment, including "Zoroastre". The historical Zoroaster was highly regarded in Masonic circles and the parallels are obvious between Rameau's opera and an even more famous Masonic allegory, Mozart's " The Magic Flute" (1791), with its initiation rites conducted under the auspices of the wise "Sarastro". [Sadler, booklet notes]
"The synopsis is based on 1756 version"
The story takes place in the ancient kingdom of
Bactriaand concerns the struggle between the forces of Good, led by Zoroastre, the "founder of the Magi", and Evil, led by the sorcerer Abramane. When the opera opens, Bactria is in chaos after the death of its king, who has left behind two daughters: Amélite, the presumptive heir, and Erinice. Both are in love with Zoroastre, who is devoted to Amélite. Abramane has taken the opportunity to send Zoroastre into exile. The sorcerer also plots to seize the throne with Erinice, who wants revenge on Zoroastre for rejecting her love. Abramane conjures up demons to capture Amélite.
Zoroastre is in exile at the palace of the king of the good
genies, Oromasès. Oromasès tells Zoroastre to go and rescue Amélite and destroy the forces of evil. He puts Zoroastre through a magic initiation ritual to prepare him for the task. In the dungeons of the fortress of Bactria, Abramane and Erinice are torturing Amélite to force her to renounce the throne, when Zoroastre suddenly appears. He releases Amélite and destroys the fortress with his magic powers. Amélite is presented as queen to her joyful Bactrian subjects.
Night. Abramane and Erinice quarrel over the disaster that has befallen their plans. Abramane hides Erinice in a cloud. At dawn, Zoroastre, Amélite and the Bactrian people assemble to worship the Supreme Being then celebrate the marriage of Zoroastre and Amélite. As the wedding ceremony takes place, Abramane arrives on a fiery chariot and kidnaps Amélite. Zoroastre prepares his magic spirits for war
In the temple of the god Arimane, Abramane receives news that the battle between the spirits of good and evil is going badly for him. He sacrifices to the god and summons up Hate, Vengeance and Despair.
Erinice, now repentant, warns Zoroastre of Abramane's plan for a new battle. Abramane appears in the fiery chariot once more and reveals Amélite in chains. He calls on Zoroastre to surrender. Instead, Zoroastre calls on the gods, who strike down Abramane and his evil priests with thunderbolts. The opera ends with rejoicing as Zoroastre and Amélite are crowned king and queen of Bactria.
* "Zoroastre" (1756 version) Collegium Vocale Ghent, La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kujiken (3 CDs, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1983)
* "Zoroastre" (1756 version) Les Arts Florissants, William Christie (3 CDs,Erato, 2002)
* DVD: "Zoroastre" (1756 version) Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (2 DVDs, 2006)
*Girdlestone, Cuthbert, "Jean-Philippe Rameau: His Life and Work", New York: Dover, 1969 (paperback edition)
*Holden, Amanda, ed., "The Viking Opera Guide", New York:Viking, 1993
*Sadler, Graham, ed., "The New Grove French Baroque Masters" Grove/Macmillan, 1988
*Sadler, Graham's, Booklet notes to the Christie recording
* [http://perso.orange.fr/jean-claude.brenac/Operabaroque.htm Le magazine de l'opéra baroque by Jean-Claude Brenac (in French)]
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