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Zoroastre, tragedie, mise en musique par M. Rameau, représentée pour la premiere fois par l’Académie Royale de Musique, le 2 Decembre 1749.

Paris, Boivin, Leclair, Castagneri and the author, [c. 1750].

Oblong 4to, pp. [ii], 189, letterpress title, music engraved throughout; woodcut vignette on title; numerous pasted-on slips bearing manuscript instructions or indicating cuts, viola part added in manuscript to music on pp. 100–1 (see below); old repaired tear in inner margin of one leaf (pp. 107–8, without loss), some occasional light browning and spotting; contemporary mottled sheep, spine gilt; rubbed, head and foot of spine slightly chipped, upper joint cracked at head and foot.

£6000

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Zoroastre, tragedie, mise en musique par M. Rameau, représentée pour la premiere fois par l’Académie Royale de Musique, le 2 Decembre 1749.

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First edition; rare. Despite a strong cast and a lavish production, Zoroastre met with only limited success (and, it seems, much bewilderment) when first performed at the Opéra in 1749. By May 1752 Rameau and the librettist Louis de Cahusac had begun an extensive reworking of the opera. This version was considerably more successful when it was first given on 19 January 1756. It was revived, with minor modifications, on 26 January 1770 to inaugurate the Opéra’s Palais Royal theatre, rebuilt after the fire of 1763.

‘Dardanus [1739] and Zoroastre are both marred by serious defects in their librettos. The former suffers from an inept and puerile plot. The latter, though its theme is the conflict of Good and Evil as found in the dualist religion of ancient Persia (Cahusac’s libretto also contains much masonic symbolism), is weakened by structural flaws and by the introduction of a conventional love element that implausibly involves the great religious reformer Zoroaster himself. Both works also make excessive use of the supernatural. Although many of the worst failings of these operas were eliminated or lessened at their first revivals, neither opera succeeds more than fitfully in dramatic terms. Yet they are full of music that is at times awe-inspiring in its power and seldom below Rameau’s best’ (New Grove).

The manuscript instructions in the present copy are of considerable interest. They comprise instructions to a copyist, indicating cuts (by the pasting of thin paper strips over the relevant sections), substitution of movements from elsewhere in the opera, and expansion of the scoring: ‘copiez ici l’ariette qui est page 189. Et celle ci vous la mettrez à la fin de l’acte’ (p. 182), ‘5 voix[,] la taille est separée[,] 2 viol et basse[,] 8 portées’ (p. 158), ‘ici le Rigaudon du supplement. Voyez page 186’ (p. 55), and so forth. On pp. 100–1 an extra part (marked ‘alto’, i.e. viola) has been added, on its own stave, to the second of the two passepieds of Act III. It seems unlikely that this added music does not derive from the composer himself, nor is it plausible that any of the manuscript instructions post-date the revival of the opera (by that time substantially reworked) in early 1756.

BUC p. 872; Hirsch II 792; RISM R 171.

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