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Tragédie en musique (French lyric tragedy), also known as tragédie lyrique, is a genre of French opera introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lully and used by his followers until the second half of the eighteenth century. Operas in this genre are usually based on stories from Classical mythology or the Italian romantic epics of Tasso and Ariosto. The stories may not have a tragic ending - in fact, they generally don't - but the atmosphere must be noble and elevated. The standard tragédie en musique has five acts. Earlier works in the genre were preceded by an allegorical prologue and, during the lifetime of Louis XIV, these generally celebrated the king's noble qualities and his prowess in war. Each of the five acts usually follows a basic pattern, opening with an aria in which one of the main characters expresses their feelings, followed by dialogue in recitative interspersed with short arias (petits airs), in which the main business of the plot occurs. Each act traditionally ends with a divertissement, offering great opportunities for the chorus and the ballet troupe. Composers sometimes changed the order of these features in an act for dramatic reasons.


Notable examples of the genre

Apart from Lully, the most considerable writer of tragédies en musique is Rameau, whose five works in the form are considered the culminating masterpieces of the genre. The Viking Opera Guide refers to Marc-Antoine Charpentier's tragédie Médée as "arguably the finest French opera of the seventeenth century". In the eighteenth century, Jean-Marie Leclair's lone tragédie Scylla et Glaucus has been similarly praised. Other highly esteemed exponents are André Campra (Tancrède, Idoménée), Marin Marais (Alcyone) and Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (Jephté).

List of works in this genre


Jean-Baptiste Lully

Works by Lully's sons

  • Orontée (1688) (by Jean-Louis Lully and Paolo Francesco Lorenzani)
  • Orphée (1690) (by Louis and Jean-Baptiste the Younger)
  • Alcide (by Louis Lully and Marin Marais)

Pascal Collasse

  • Thétis et Pelée (1689)
  • Énée et Lavinie (1691)
  • Jason, ou la toison d'or (1696)
  • Canente (1700)
  • Polyxène et Pirrhus (1706)

Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Henri Desmarets

  • Didon (1693)
  • Circé (1694)
  • Théagène et Chariclée (1695)
  • Vénus et Adonis (1697)
  • Iphigénie en Tauride (1704, completed by Campra)
  • Renaud ou la suite d'Armide (1722)

Marin Marais

  • Alcide (1693) (with Lully's son, Louis)
  • Ariane et Bacchus (1696)
  • Alcyone (1706)
  • Sémélé (1709)

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre

Charles-Hubert Gervais

  • Méduse (1697)
  • Hypermnestre (1716)

André Cardinal Destouches

  • Amadis de Grèce (1699)
  • Omphale (1701)
  • Callirhoé (1712)

André Campra

Jean-Féry Rebel

  • Ulysse (1702)

François Bouvard

  • Médus, Roi des Mèdes (1702)

Louis de La Coste

  • Philomèle (1705)
  • Bradamante (1707)
  • Créuse l'Athénienne (1712)
  • Télégone (1725)
  • Orion (1728)
  • Byblis (1732)

Toussaint Bertin de la Doué

  • Cassandre (1706) (with François Bouvard)
  • Diomède (1710)
  • Ajax (1712)

Joseph François Salomon

  • Médée et Jason (1713)
  • Théonoé (1715)

Jean-Baptiste Matho

  • Arion (1714)

Jean-Joseph Mouret

  • Ariane (1717)
  • Pirithoüs (1723)

François Francoeur and François Rebel

  • Pirame et Thisbé (1726)
  • Tarsis et Zélie (1728)
  • Scanderberg (1735)

Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer

  • Pyrrhus (1730)

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair

Jean-Philippe Rameau

Charles-Louis Mion

  • Nitetis (1741)

François Colin de Blamont

Jean-Marie Leclair

Marquis de Brassac

  • Léandre et Héro (1750)

Antoine Dauvergne

  • Hercule mourant (1761)
  • Polyxène (1763)

Jean-Joseph de Mondonville

  • Thésée (1765)


  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5

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