Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Feisty Females: Part 4

Fri Nov 2 2012

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Our guide to female opera characters returns, with a look at Phaedra…
The fabulous Sarah Connolly will be taking on the role next Thursday at our next Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie.

Who was she?

Phaedra was the wife of Theseus, king of Athens. Her mother was Pasiphae, mother of the monstrous Minotaur (so yes, she had a bull-man hybrid for a half-brother).

What was she famous for?

Phaedra was most famous for continuing her family’s lack of luck in love- she fell in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. In some versions of the myth, she nobly tries to resist her feelings for him and in others she attempts to seduce him – both with disastrous consequences.

Phaedra’s reaction to her feelings for Hippolytus and the tragic fallout inspired a number of playwrights such as Euripides, Racine (famously portrayed by Helen Mirren at the National Theatre) and the controversial Sarah Kane.

Was she a queen, heroine or ladykiller?

As the wife of Theseus, Phaedra was the first queen of Athens. In the most famous version of the myth, she commits suicide whilst accusing Hippolytus of assaulting her which leads to his death (as Hippolytus’ dad curses him and asks his dad (who happens to be Poseidon) to punish him so a giant bull is sent from the sea to cause a fatal accident with the chariot Hippolytus is riding in. Got that?)

Who will be singing Phaedra and when?

Sarah Connolly will be singing Phaedra from Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie on 8 November in French Exchange at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

You can listen to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing Phèdre’s aria Cruelle mere des amours here.

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