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date: 22 October 2019

Perséphone (‘Persephone’)locked

  • Richard Taruskin

Extract

(‘Persephone’)

Melodrama in three scenes by Igor Stravinsky to a text by André Gide; Paris, Opéra, 30 April 1934.

Stravinsky included this neo-classical extravaganza in a discussion of ‘three operas’ in Memories and Commentaries (1960), although the title role, commissioned and first performed by the famous mime Ida Rubinstein, is spoken rather than sung. Gide’s original conception was of a ‘symphonic ballet’ consisting of recitation, dances and choral song. Later, at the composer’s suggestion, he added the tenor role, created by René Maison, of the priest Eumolpus, who narrates the myth of the daughter of the earth goddess Demeter, seduced and raped by Pluto, whose yearly peregrinations between surface world and underworld give rise to the seasons. In Gide’s version Persephone goes to Hades willingly, out of compassion for the Shades, thus turning the myth into a Christian parable. The three scenes – The Abduction of Persephone, Persephone in the Underworld, Persephone Reborn – correspond to the seasonal round. Since the composer made the suggestion in ...

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