Major Operas | Les indes galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau | Late Baroque
Composed in 1735, Les indes galantes is an opéra-ballet in which each act has its own setting and self-contained plot. Its four entrées include a scene set in a Turkish garden, Incas worshipping the sun in a Peruvian desert, a flower festival at a Persian market and a village ceremony in a North American forest.
The librettist Louis Fuzelier used these exotic elements to draw comparisons between ‘savage’ rituals and European culture, often to the detriment of the latter. Rameau’s witty music made this one of his most popular theatre works, and he revived it during every decade until his death.
Premiered: 1735, Paris
Libretto by Louis Fuzelier
Hébé, goddess of youth, calls upon the young people of Europe to sing, but the goddess of war, Bellone, convinces them to fight for glory instead. Hébé calls upon l’Amour, who descends from the heavens; they decide to concentrate on other parts of the world.
Osman, the pasha of a Turkish island, is in love with Emilie, who arrived on his shores after being kidnapped by pirates. She rejects his advances, explaining that she remains faithful to the naval officer Valère. After a violent storm, a ship is wrecked on the coast of the island and Valère is on board. As the lovers are reunited, Osman interrupts them. He recognizes Valère and confesses that he himself was once a slave but was liberated by Valère. He gives the two lovers his blessing.
A young Inca woman, Phani, and Don Carlos, a Spanish conquistador, are in love. The high priest of the Sun, Huascar, is also in love with Phani. He tells her that the gods have ordered him to find her a husband, and proposes himself as a suitable match. During a festival, there is a volcanic eruption. Huascar tells Phani that she has caused this by angering the gods, and that she must marry him. Don Carlos intervenes and reveals that Huascar caused the eruption by throwing rocks into the volcano. The volcano erupts again and kills Huascar.
Prince Tacmas loves Zaïre, the slave of Ali, a courtesan. On the day of the flower festival, in Ali’s garden, he prepares to win her love. Meanwhile, Tacmas’s slave Fatima is in love with Ali. Disguised as a man, she too enters the garden. Tacmas, taking Fatima for a rival, goes to attack her, but recognizes her in time. In a joyous conclusion, the masters swap their slaves and join the flower festival.
In a North American forest, Ardario, an Indian chief, hides as he prepares to make peace with Damon, a Frenchman and Don Alvar, a Spaniard. Damon and Don Alvar are both in love with Zima, a young Indian woman. When she arrives, they try to make her choose between them by outlining how each will love her. Zima replies that the Spaniard is too fiery, the Frenchman too cold. Ardario appears and Zima...
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