Major Operas | Castor et Pollux by Jean-Philippe Rameau | Late Baroque
Castor et Pollux was considered Rameau’s greatest achievement after he revised it in 1754. The storyline revolves around the generosity of one twin brother willing to forsake his unique immortality so that the other may live, but their complex situation creates strong portraits of inner conflict and tension between other characters, Rameau conveys the magical forces of Hades, the Elysian fields and the tempting celestial pleasures Pollux must forsake if he takes Castor’s place in death.
The famous lament ‘Que tout gémisse’, a chorus in which the Spartans mourn at Castor’s tomb, was performed at Rameau’s own funeral in 1764.
Composed: 1737; revised 1754
Premiered: 1737, Paris
Libretto by Pierre-Joseph Bernard (Gentil-Bernard)
Minèrve and l’Amour persuade Venus to seduce Mars, bringing peace to the world.
In Sparte, the people are mourning the death of their king Castor, mortal twin of the immortal Pollux. Télaïre, Castor’s lover, is consoled by Phébé. Pollux offers his love to Télaïre, but she resolves to remain faithful to Castor. She requests that Pollux convince Jupiter to let him descend to the underworld and retrieve Castor.
Upset at being rejected by Télaïre and grieving for his brother, Pollux asks Jupiter whether he may do as Télaïre requested. Jupiter agrees, but only on the condition that Pollux takes Castor’s place in the underworld. Hébé, the goddess of youth, reminds Pollux of what he will be deprived of if he goes ahead, but Pollux remains determined.
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