Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


John S. Powell (University of Tulsa, USA)

The metamorphosis of Psyché

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668) brought a temporary peace with the Anglo-Dutch Alliance, after which Louis XIV set his sights on the Spanish Netherlands. During the years leading up to the Dutch War, Louis charged his engineer Vauban to build up fortifications on the northern frontier. Psyché, the Carnival entertainment for the winter of 1670-71, marked a decisive shift in orientation for court festivities, and brought together Lully and his future opera librettist, Philippe Quinault. After the seven performances given for the king and his court, Psyché was taken on tour. According to the Gazette d’Amsterdam, a production in the newly-acquired city of Lille was planned ‘to show his magnificence to the people of the Netherlands’. The Prologue heralded Louis as the peacemaker, whereas the entrée of Mars and his entourage in the Finale was a portend of coming events in the theater of politics. In the event, these two musical excerpts from Psyché were given a magnificent and boisterous performance on the ramparts of Vauban’s new fort at Dunkerque. Meanwhile, Molière and his company capitalized on his last collaboration with Lully. After remodeling the Théâtre du Palais-Royal to accommodate the machines required for this production and hiring a troupe of professional singers and dancers, the company gave 83 public performances of Psyché.

This paper traces the metamorphosis of Psyché— from court spectacle into a tool of propaganda; into a financial windfall for Molière’s company; and, finally, into a full-fledged tragédie en musique at Lully’s Académie Royale de Musique.

Last updated on 11 May 2004