P s y c h é  (1671)
tragicomédie et ballet

spoken verse by Jean-Baptiste Molère and Pierre Corneille
sung lyrics by Philippe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Lully
music by Jean-Baptiste Lully

edited by John S. Powell
Prologue,     Act 1,     Act 2,     Act 3,     Act 4,     Act 5

Maurice Denis (1870-1943)

Psyche discovers her Mysterious Lover (1908-09)


by John S. Powell

          This “new edition” of the tragédie-ballet Psyché is a reconstruction of the production performed by Molière's Troupe du Roy at the Théâtre du Palais Royal.

          In the late ‘90s, I edited
for the Œuvres complètes de J. B. Lully the “first version” of Psyché--that is, the version that premiered before the royal court at the Salle des Machines of the Tuileries Palace during Carnival of 1671.  I had worked diligently during my 1998 sabbatical on this project, supported in part by national grants.  When the editorial committee finally got around to this project some 5 years later, events took an unfortunate turn; as a result, I was not pleased with the final publication.  Furthermore, an important musical manuscript came to light around 2000 that was sold on auction and was purchased by John Ward for the Harvard Theatre Collection.  I met John Ward, who allowed to study (but not photocopy) this manuscript, and I made an extensive list of variant musical readings for the critical notes of my forthcoming edition.  John did allow me to photocopy the final chorus, which was set to lyrics expressly written by Molière for the Palais-Royal performances.  Whereas my transcription of this final chorus appeared in the appendix of the Œuvres complètes edition of Psyché, the variant readings were omitted from the Critical Notes and the “Harvard MS” was proclaimed by my co-editor “unavailable for consultation.”  In hindsight, this MS should probably have served as a primary source.

          The Œuvres complètes edition of 
Psyché attempts to reconstruct the tragédie-ballet as it was performed six times before the court during Carnival at the Salle des Machines in the Tuileries Palace.  However, the work continued on in a different, revised version...one that Molière and his acting company, the Troupe du Roy, performed a total of 83 times at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal beginning July 1671 (the first performance-run lasted for 39 performances from 21 July until 25 October of 1671; the first revival ran for 13 performances from 15 January to 6 March 1672; and the second revival ran for 31 performances from 11 November 1672 until 22 January 1673).  For these performances Molière had printed a new livret that reveals many of the changes made to the tragédie-ballet; later that fall, Molière printed the first edition of the play together with the lyrics and stage directions of the musical intermèdes

          These sources reveal that, in fact, there were many differences with the Salle des Machines production with regard to (1) the number of performers in the musical Prologue and intermèdes, (2) the internal organization of the acts, (3) the décor, and, most notably, (4) the organization of the final intermède.   The Palais-Royal performances used significantly fewer singers and approximately half as many dancers.  Instead of 300 singers, dancers, and instrumentalists in the Dernier Intermède of the Salle des Machines production, the Palais-Royal livret specifies that “a chorus of all the voices and all the instruments, numbering forty, join together in the general dance and end the fête of the wedding of Cupid and Psyche” (“un choeur de toutes les voix et de tous les instruments, qui sont au nombre de quarante, se joint à la danse générale et termine la fête des noces de l’Amour et de Psyché”).  The décor of Acts 1 and 4 of the Palais-Royal performances substituted painted flats of buildings and palaces for the gardens of the Salle des Machines production.   This reduced scale of the sets and machine-effects may be owing to the differences in the performing spaces—for the remodeled stage of the Théâtre du Palais-Royal was neither as wide nor as deep as that of the Salle des Machines.

Palais-Royal livret lists the names of the actors—but not those of the singers and dancers.  Dancing roles are assigned to 2 dryades, 4 sylvains, 2 fleuves, and 2 naïades in the Prologue, 6 cyclopes and 4 fées in the Second Intermède, 4 zéphyrs and 4 amours in the Troisième Intermède, and 8 furies and 1 lutin in the Quatrième Intermède.  According to the Le Registre de La Grange (the account book for Molière's company), these various roles were covered by a total of 16 dancers and 2 acrobats.   The names of 8 singers hired for these performances also appear in Le Registre de La Grange:  Mlles de Rieux, Turpin, and Grandpré, and Messieurs Forestier, Mosnier, Champenois, Ribou, and Poussin. Pierre Beauchamps served as musical director for this production—for which he was paid 1,100 livres “for having composed the ballets and for conducting the music”, together with an additional payment of 11 livres per performance “for beating time for the music (pour batter la mesure à la musique) as well as for supervising the ballets”.  From these precisions it appears that Beauchamps choreographed the dances, oversaw the execution of the ballets, and conducted the Palais-Royal orchestra--which then consisted of 12 violons and 3 symphonistes.

          Given the exceptionally long run of 83 performances of Psyché
at the Théâtre du Palais Royal (unprecedented for its time), together with Molière "rethinking" of the musical intermèdes and their relationship with the spoken play, it seems like a useful and worthwhile project to reconstruct the version of Psyché that was seen most often by the Parisian public--as performed by Molière’s company and under Molière’s exclusive artistic control.  Furthermore, for purposes of comparison, set descriptions and staging directions from the court livret, the first edition, and the Palais-Royal livret will be provided.  And lastly, here is an article that I wrote entitled "Psyché: The Stakes of a Collaboration,” in Reverberations: Staging Relations in French Since 1500 - A Festschrift in Honour of C. E. J. Caldicott, ed. Phyllis Gaffney, Michael Brophy, and Mary Gallagher (University College Dublin Press, 2008), 1-25.  This article details the circumstances leading up to the creation of this unusual and influential collaborative masterpiece.  It is my hope that this new edition of the tragédie-ballet version will one day inspire modern performances in both French and in English.

          One of the bonuses of living in the digital age is that many of the sources used for this reconstruction are now available online, namely:

Literary sources
Musical sources
Palais-Royal livret (see image below) Airs du Balet royal de Psiché (1670)
first edition of play (see image below) Airs du Balet royal de Psiché, 2e ed. (1673)
Salle des Machines livret (see image below) Harvard MS (n.d.)

Philidor MS (copied in 1695)

English translation of the spoken parts of Psyché are taken from The Dramatic Works of Molière, translated into English prose with short introductions and explanatory notes, by Charles Heron Wall (London, 1876), available online through Project Gutenberg.  Translation of the sung lyrics are my own.

          In 1678, Psyché underwent a third incarnation when Lully and Quuinault converted the tragédie ballet into a tragédie en musique.  Quinault converted the spoken texts of Molière and Corneille into lyrics, which Lully set in recitative, and added more instrumental music.  During my 2006 sabbatical I prepared a performing edition of this operatic version for the Boston Early Music Festival, where it was performed in June of 2007.  I retained the "intellectual rights" to my edition, so that I might do with it what I like...and what I like is to make it freely available to whoever is interested.  Consequently, the full score of the tragédie en musique version of Psyché is available here (
Prologue, Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4, Act 5).