Amadis Fact Sheet
Amadis Performance History
Amadis, Ballard 1684
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The premiere of Amadis was delayed for a year after Lully completed its composition to allow the proper mourning period for Marie Thérese , wife of  Louis XIV, who died in July of 1683. While still abstaining from theater at court, Louis XIV at last allowed the first public presentation of Amadis at the Opéra in Paris on 18 January 1684. It was an immediate public success which the fashionable French newspaper Mercure hailed with, "Never have we seen anything more magnificent, more listenable, or more suitable to the subject" (quoted in Isherwood, 230).

Louis himself chose the subject for Amadis, Lully's first opera not based on a mythological subject. The story was adapted by Quinault from Nicholas Herberay des Essarts' translation of Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo's Amadis de Gaule. Amadis was the first of three Lully/Quinault operas derived from medieval legend: Roland and Armide are based on legends from the Crusades.

The importance of Amadis in Lully's work stems from new treatments of plot and structure. First, Urgande, one of the two characters from the Prologue, also appears in the tragedy and thereby strengthens the connection between the two dramatic units. Before this, the prologue served primarily to glorify the king and had little dramatic weight. Second, the creation of scenes from small binary airs helped transfer plot exposition away from the freer recitative to forms appropriate for dance, increasing the unity and length of a scene. Amadis contains Lully's most famous air, "Bois épais," a binary air with each section repeated.


As the Prologue opens, Urgande and Alquif, husband and wife magicians, rest in an enchanted sleep after the death of their hero Amadis. With a flash of lightning, they are awakened, and freeing the spirits that kept guard while they slept, all begin to dance and sing. The spell of their sleep could only be broken by the new hero (Louis XIV) who would control the destiny of the world.


Act I takes place in the palace of Lisuart, King of England. Amadis, son of King Perion of Gall, tells Florestan, his illegitimate brother, of his love for Oriane, daughter of Lisuart, even though she has banished him and is betrothed to the King of Rome. Corisande, Florestan's beloved, enters and he tells her of his undying love. She asks if his love for her is eclipsed by his love for glory. Invoking the name of the great hero Amadis, he replies that it his nature to search for victory, though his love for her is still stronger. Oriane enters, complaining of Amadis' infidelity. She believes he is in love with Briolanie, and his unwillingness to wait for her has forced her father to pledge her to another. Florestan and Corisande try to defend their friend, but Oriane pays no attention. As the act ends, Oriane conceals her pain while knights begin their war games.


A forest provides the setting for Act II. The sorceress Arcabonne has fallen in love with a nameless knight who saved her life. Her brother, Arcalaus, is set on revenging the death of their brother, Ardan Canile, at the hands of Amadis. Arcalaus has summoned demons to help capture Amadis. Meanwhile, Amadis enters the forest hoping to find solitude in its shadows. Here he sings the deeply moving monologue air Bois épais (Somber woods). Suddenly he is joined by Corisande, who enters weeping for Florestan whom she believes has been seduced by an enchantress. They discover Arcalaus, who has captured Florestan and now takes Corisande as well. Arcalaus commands his demons to defeat Amadis. Those in the shape of monsters do not frighten the hero, but those disguised as nymphs enchant him. Amadis is tricked into believing one of the demons to be Oriane. He lays down his weapons to pursue her.


The curtain for Act III opens on an ancient ruined palace. The heroes are now controlled by Arcabonne, who plans to exact revenge by killing Florestan and Corisande as well as Amadis. The ghost of Ardan Canile appears and predicts that she will not complete her revenge. Arcabonne, insulted, swears to finish her task. However, when Amadis is brought before her she immediately recognizes him as the unnamed hero who saved her life. Unable to carry out the execution, she frees all the captives and escapes with Amadis.


The scene for Act IV changes to a pleasant island. Arcalaus has taken Oriane prisoner, and threatens to unite her with Amadis unless Arcabonne participates in her torture. Enraged by her jealous love, Arcabonne agrees, thinking that she will have Amadis to herself. Oriane laments that Amadis has left her and at once sees Amadis' lifeless body strewn upon his weapons. This is a mirage produced by Arcalaus but shows Oriane's true feelings: though she thinks herself wronged, she still loves him. As the magicians prepare to kill the lovers, a flaming rock hiding a dragon-ship approaches. Urgande, the good sorceress, appears. The evil magic is broken and Urgande's followers return the lovers to safety. In a pantomime, evil demons are subdued by good demons while Arcalaus and Arcabonne renounce life.


All is resolved in Act V in the enchanted palace of Apollidon. Amadis seeks the council of Urgande who tells him to speak to Oriane. He does so and is relieved to find that she still loves him. He assures her that his love is only for her, and Urgande pledges to obtain consent from Oriane's father. Amadis and Florestan approach the "Arch of Loyal Lovers," through which only perfect love may pass. Despite his love for Corisande, Florestan is denied entrance; only Amadis may pass. As he does, the statues turn to life and celebrate his faithful love. A secret room opens to reveal heroes and heroines trapped awaiting their own lovers. Their captivity ended, they welcome the new lovers in a rousing finale: "Sortons l'esclavage" ("Let us depart from slavery").


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