Major Operas | Les Danaïdes by Antonio Salieri | Classical Era
The opera is based on a Greek myth. Under the guise of an act of reconciliation, the daughters of Danaus (the Danaids) have been betrothed to the sons of Danaus’s brother and enemy, Aegyptus, who is now dead. They swear an oath of friendship. Hypermnestra, the eldest daughter, loves Lynceus, the eldest son. However, Danaus tells his daughters that the marriages are a trick and part of his scheme to secure revenge. They must kill their husbands on their wedding night and, at his command, they take an oath to Nemesis, goddess of vengeance. All must conform or, the oracle has foretold, he himself will die. Hypermnestra does not take the oath, but her father demands that she too kill her husband. In her dilemma she prays for guidance and for death.
The wedding is celebrated with singing and dancing. Hypermnestra comes close to warning Lynceus of the plot. She pleads vainly to her father for mercy for Lynceus. After the wedding celebrations she tells Lynceus that they must part. Then they hear his brothers’ cries, off stage, as they are attacked by their brides. Danaus tells them to pursue Lynceus, but he has fled: he returns to attack the palace and he slays the Danaids, finishing by burning down the palace. Hypermnestra faints. In the final scene the Danaids are seen in the underworld, with the Furies promising them eternal torment; Danaus is chained to a rock and a vulture attacks his entrails.
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