L’opéra du roi

Lully’s Atys was, apparently, Louis XIV’s favourite opera.  It’s not hard to see why.  Within the rigid conventions of its time and place it really is rather fine.  The plot is classical and convoluted.  After an allegorical prologue celebrating Louis’ successful winter campaign in the Low Countries we get the story proper.  The hero Atys loves the nymph Sangaride, daughter of the god of the river Sangar, who returns his affection  She is betrothed to Celenus, king of the Phrygians.  The goddess Cybèle fancies Atys and makes him her high priest.  Atys uses his position to nix the wedding which upsets both Cybèle and Celenus. Cybèle blinds Atys who kills himself but is immortalised by being turned into a tree by Cybèle.  All of this takes over three hours with lots of ballets and other set pieces.  The music is French 17th century court music so it’s a bit unvaried but much of it is very fine indeed.

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