Opera Scotland

Castor et Pollux Castor and Pollux

Music

Jean-Philippe Rameau (Born Dijon, c25 September 1683; died Paris, 12 September 1764)

Text

Pierre-Joseph Bernard

 

Premieres

First Performance: Paris (Opéra), 24 October 1737.

First Performance (revision): Paris (Opéra), 8/11 June 1754.

First Performance in UK: Glasgow (Lyric Theatre), 27 April 1927.

 

Background

One of the most astonishing aspects of Rameau's long career is the fact that he was fifty before he composed his first full-length opera, Hippolyte et Aricie. Once started, he produced works of excellent quality at regular intervals. His final piece, Les Boréades, also one of his best, was left unperformed because of the composer's sudden death. Castor et Pollux, his third opera, was not immediately successful, but was speedily revived and adjusted. It has remained among the most popular in modern times. Even so, performances have been infrequent, and it seems surprising that it should have received its British premiere so early in the baroque revival, and in Glasgow. Press reaction was clearly enthusiastic, but it does not seem to have led to a stream of similar projects.

 

Main Characters

Télaïre, daughter of the Sun (soprano)

Phébé, a Spartan princess (mezzo-soprano)

Castor, son of Tyndareus and Leda, a mortal (tenor)

Pollux, his half-brother, son of Jupiter and Leda, immortal (bass)

Mercury (tenor)

Jupiter (bass)

High Priest (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

In the Prologue to the first version, omitted in the revision, Mars is persuaded by Venus and Cupid to adopt peace instead of war, at the urging of Minerva.

Castor and Pollux are half-brothers from Sparta. Both love Telaira, though she only loves Castor. When he is killed in battle she persuades Pollux to ask Jupiter to restore his brother to life. Pollux agrees due to his love for both his brother and Telaira. Jupiter demands Pollux's own life in exchange for his brother's, and Pollux agrees. Followers of Hebe, goddess of youth, remind Pollux that he will lose his immortality. Undeterred, he makes his way down to Hades to retrieve his brother. Phoebe, who loves him, follows Pollux to the underworld in an attempt to foil his intentions, but he rejects her and continues on his way. When demons try to prevent his access Mercury appears and defeats them.

In the Elysian Fields, where everyone should be happy, Castor is wretched. When Pollux enters they are both overjoyed at their reunion. He is delighted at the news of his imminent  revival, until he hears the penalty Pollux must pay. Castor declares he will only return to Telaira for one day. He will then return to Hades, allowing Pollux to resume his life. Telaira is horrified to discover she is reunited with Castor only for that day. Jupiter is moved by the integrity of the brothers and reprieves them - Pollux can return to earth and they will both now be immortal. Telaira, unable to remain with her beloved Castor, is nonetheless given immortality and a place in the heavens. Only Phoebe loses out, since she had followed Pollux to Hades and is stuck there.

The Cast

Castor
 mortal son of Tyndareus and Leda
Hébé
 
Jupiter
 
Mercure
 messenger to the gods
Phébé
 a Spartan princess
Pollux
 immortal son of Jupiter and Leda, half-brother to Castor
Télaïre
 daughter of the Sun
Vénus
 

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