Introduction

This is a short article I wrote for the New Grove Dictionary of Opera about 15 years ago, which was subject to their specified word-count.  I will append more information following the article.

 

Actéon

(‘Actaeon’).

Pastorale in six scenes by Marc-Antoine Charpentier; Paris, Hotel de Guise, 1683–5.

Actaeon (haute-contre) and a chorus of hunters are tracking game while Diane [Diana] (soprano) and her companions are bathing in a nearby spring. Actaeon takes leave of his party to find a quiet glade to sleep. Encountering the bathers, he attempts to hide but is immediately discovered. To prevent him from boasting of what he has seen, Diana transforms him into a stag. The hunters come looking for Actaeon to invite him to join their hunt, but Junon [Juno] (mezzo-soprano) appears and announces the death of Actaeon, who has been torn to pieces by his own hounds. A miniature tragédie lyrique, Actéon approaches other works by Charpentier, such as David et Jonathas and Médée, in its psychological dimensions. Charpentier’s music, through affective choices of key, orchestral colour and vocal style, faithfully reflects the rapid succession of moods within the drama’s short span. Especially moving is the poignant instrumental plaint that accompanies Actaeon’s transformation into a stag.