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date: 22 November 2019

Naïs [Naïs, opéra pour la Paix (‘Neis, Opera for the Peace’)]locked

  • Graham Sadler

Extract

[Naïs, opéra pour la Paix (‘Neis, Opera for the Peace’)]

Pastorale-héroïque in a prologue and three acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau to a libretto by (Jean-)Louis de Cahusac; Paris, Opéra, 22 April 1749.

The ‘peace’ of the subtitle was the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which concluded the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). It provides the subject matter of the allegorical prologue, ‘L’accord des dieux’ (‘The Gods’ Agreement’), where the war is represented as an attempt by the Titans to storm Olympus. A victorious Jupiter (bass), representing Louis XV, magnanimously shares jurisdiction over the Universe with Pluton [Pluto] (bass) and Neptune (haute-contre), the latter popularly viewed as an inept portrayal of France’s former enemy, King George II. (Nobody remarked on the incongruity of making Neptune hero of the ensuing drama.)

The opera itself, set on the Isthmus of Corinth, concerns the wooing by Neptune of Naïs [Neis] (soprano), a water-nymph famed both for her beauty and for the outstanding quality of her voice. Cahusac supposes her to have been daughter of the blind soothsayer Tirésie [Tiresias] (bass), who could predict the future by interpreting birdsong. Neptune, who conducts his wooing incognito, eventually wins Neis’s hand despite the hostility of two rival suitors, Télénus [Telenus] (bass) and Astérion [Asterion] (...

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