- John A. Rice
Libretto subject used chiefly during the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries (also as Ariane or Arianna). Its source is Greek mythology. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, king of Crete, fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus, who came to Crete to slay the Minotaur, the monstrous offspring, half-bull, half-man, of Minos’s wife Pasiphae; she helped him to escape the Labyrinth by providing him (in one version) with a ball of string that he unwound as he penetrated it, thus enabling him to find his way out. Ariadne accompanied Theseus to the island of Naxos, where he abandoned her. In some versions she dies of grief; in others she is rescued by the god Dionysus (Bacchus), whom she weds.
Most librettos about Ariadne deal with either the events on Crete or those on Naxos but not both. Ariane, by Catulle Mendès, set by Massenet (1906), is one of the few that follow Ariadne and Theseus from one island to the other and show both Theseus’s victory over the Minotaur and his abandonment of Ariadne. Act 2 of this libretto, reminiscent of Act 1 of ...