Phaëton (Lully)

Phaëton (LWV 61) is a tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Philippe Quinault wrote the French libretto after a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses. It can be read as an allegorical depiction of the punishment awaiting those mortals who dare to raise themselves as high as the "sun" (i.e. the Sun King).

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Phaëton was the first lyric tragedy of Lully and Quinault to receive its world premiere at the Palace of Versailles, where it was given without stage machinery on or about 6 January 1683.[1] The Paris Opera also performed it at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal (beginning on 27 April), where it was very successful with the general public. The performances ceased for thirty days of mourning following the death of the queen on 30 July 1683, but resumed thereafter and continued until 12 or 13 January 1684. The opera was revived at the Palais-Royal in 1692, 1702, 1710, 1721, 1730, and 1742. It was sometimes referred to as "the people's opera", just as Lully's Isis came to be called "the musician's opera" (because of its score), and his Atys, as "the king's opera" (one of Louis XIV's favorite works).[2]


Role Description Voice type[3] Premiere cast, c. 6 January 1683
Astrée Astraea, a goddess. soprano Fanchon Moreau[4]
Saturne Saturn, a god from a former age. bass ?
Companions of Astraea; Followers of Saturn and Astraea
Libie Libya, daughter of Merops by his first wife soprano ?
Théone Theona, daughter of Proteus, Phaëton's lover. soprano ?
Phaëton the son of Clymene and the Sun. haute-contre (high tenor) Louis Gaulard Dumesny
Climène Clymene, daughter of Oceanus, second wife of Merops. soprano ?
Protée Proteus, a sea god, Triton's herdsman. bass ?
Triton a sea god, brother of Clymene. haute-contre Claude Desvoyes
Épaphus a son of Jupiter, Libya's lover. bass ?
Mérops king of Egypt bass ?
Un roi Éthiopien a king from Ethiopia bass ?
Un roi Indien a king from India bass ?
Une des Heures du jour an Hour of the day soprano ?
L'Automne Autumn, a god bass[5] ?
Le Soleil the Sun, a god haute-contre ?
Une bergère Égyptienne An Egyptian shepherdess soprano ?
La Terre the Earth, a goddess haute-contre Claude Desvoyes
Jupiter king of the gods bass ?
Followers of Triton; Kings and Tributaries of Merops; Egyptians, Ethiopians, Indians; followers of Phaëton; Priestesses; Worshippers of Isis; Furies; Hours of the Day; Four Seasons
1709 illustration for Phaëton


Phaëton, the prideful and reckless son of the Sun and the ocean nymph Clymene, is driven to abandon his lover Theona by his ambition for the hand of Libya, daughter of the king of Egypt. On the day of the wedding, Libya's enraged lover Epaphus, himself the son of Jupiter, disputes Phaëton's claim to divine lineage. Desiring to prove himself, Phaëton convinces his father to allow him to drive the sun-chariot for one day. In the course of his flight he loses control of the horses, threatening the earth beneath with fiery destruction; Epaphus entreats his father to put an end to the danger, and Jupiter strikes the chariot down with a thunderbolt. Phaëton falls to his death.




  1. ^ Pitou 1983, vol. 1, p. 289; Rosow 1992. Note that La Gorce 2001 gives a revised date of 8/9 January 1683.
  2. ^ Pitou 1983, vol. 1, p. 290; Lajarte 1878, pp. 44–45.
  3. ^ According to Clelia Parvopassu (Dizionario dell'opera 2008) unless otherwise stated.
  4. ^ Lajarte, p. 45.
  5. ^ According to Parvopassu, haute-contre, but in fact the part is notated in the bass clef in the original printed score (p. 175; accessible online at IMSLP).


  • 1742 libretto: Phaeton, Tragedie représentée pour la première fois à Versailles devant le Roi, le mercredi 6 janvier 1683 et à Paris (...) Remise au théâtre le mardi 13 novembre 1742. Paris: Ballard (accessible for free online at Gallica - B.N.F.)
  • Brenac, Jean-Claude. "Phaëton" page, Le magazine de l'opéra baroque website (Accessed 6 September 2006), (French only)
  • La Gorce, Jérôme de (2001). "Lully. (1) Jean-Baptiste Lully [Lulli, Giovanni Battista] (i)" in Sadie 2001.
  • Lajarte, Théodore (1878). Bibliothèque musicale du Théâtre de l'Opéra, volume 1 [1671–1791]. Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles (copy at Internet Archive)
  • "Phaëton (1683)" pages, The Jean-Baptiste Lully Collection website, University of North Texas Music Library (Accessed 6 September 2006). [1]
  • (in Italian) Parvopassu, Clelia, Phaéton, in Gelli, Piero & Poletti, Filippo (ed), Dizionario dell'opera 2008, Milan, Baldini Castoldi Dalai, 2007, pp. 1015-1016, ISBN 978-88-6073-184-5 (reproduced online at Opera Manager)
  • Pitou, Spire (1983–1990). The Paris Opéra: An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers (3 volumes). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-686-46036-7.
  • Rosow, Lois (1992). "Phaëton" in Sadie 1992, vol. 3, p. 991.
  • Sadie, Stanley, editor (1992). The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (4 volumes). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-228-9.
  • Sadie, Stanley, editor (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5 (hardcover), OCLC 419285866 (eBook), and Grove Music Online.

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