Opera Scotland

Actéon Actéon

Music

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (born Paris, 1643; died Paris, 24 February 1704)

Text 

Anonymous

Source

Adapted from Metamorphoses, Book 3 by Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso 43 BC – 17 or 18 AD).

 

Premières

First performance: Paris (Hôtel de Guise), 1683-5.

First UK performance: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 18 August 1985.

First performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Little is known of Charpentier’s early life. He did study in Rome under Carissimi, but when he returned to France his entire career was overshadowed by that of Lully, who had established himself as the dominant figure musically, and perhaps more importantly, politically. As a result of this Charpentier found himself frozen out. He was able to collaborate with Molière towards the end of the dramatist’s career, especially in composing the music for Molière’s last play, Le Malade Imaginaire (1673). He found an aristocratic patroness in Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Guise, and it is as an entertainment in her home that Actéon was probably first produced. It is a short piece, in one act, similar in scale to the near contemporaneous Dido and Aeneas. The climax of the work is the astonishing scene in which Actéon realises he is changing into a stag.

 

Characters

Actéon, a huntsman (counter-tenor)

Arthebusia (soprano)

Hyale, a nymph (soprano)

Daphne, a nymph (soprano)

Diana (soprano)

Juno (soprano)

 

Plot Summary

The action begins with a hunting scene set in the valley of the Gargaphia. After a chorus of huntsmen, Actéon, one of their number, prays for success, and they go off in pursuit of a bear. Diana and her nymphs now appear, attracted by the beautiful woodland scenery, with fresh, pure waters. They sing of the pleasures of life without the problems caused by lovers, and they decide to bathe. At midday, Actéon tells his friends that he wishes to rest. He also has no interest in love, being more attracted to hunting. When he sees Diana and her nymphs he takes cover, but they have heard him. He tries to explain the situation, but Diana is enraged, and splashes him with water. Left alone, he looks at his reflection in the pool, and is disturbed to see that his appearance is changing because of the splashing. His skin is becoming hairy and wrinkled, and his voice is going. The huntsmen now come back, shouting for their friend to join them, but there is no sign of him. Juno appears, and informs the men that the stag their hounds have just killed was in fact Actéon. They ask what he had done to deserve such a fate, and she explains he had himself done nothing – she had decreed his fate in revenge for his aunt Europa’s dalliance with Zeus, Juno’s husband. The huntsmen are left to mourn his fate.

The Cast

Actéon
 a huntsman
Arthebusia
 
Daphne
 a nymph
Diana
 
Hyale
 a nymph
Juno
 

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