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The ghost of Alcestis

By A. Wygant


This chapter considers a complex of materials centred on the Alcestis of Euripides and its reception history as an opera (Lully, Gluck) in early modern France. The interest of this particular text is that its operatic setting by Lully generated a polemic in the 1670s which initiated the ‘Querelle des anciens et des modernes’, a founding moment of modernity. This study thus interrogates the very notion of ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ as it is deployed around the Alcestis, that is, as Lully and Gluck translated modernity into music. The fundamental question of this modernity would be ‘Who or what was returned to Admetus?’ My argument is that the ghost of Alcestis, written out, written over, or perhaps repressed the in 1674 Lully opera, re-emerges in the theoretical discourse of Racine and Perrault surrounding the opera as the general question of what, exactly, can be retrieved from antiquity. Equally, her ghostliness eliminated from the plot of Gluck’s 1776 Paris reform opera, it is her voice, her very music, which is invaded by the musical figure of the ghost. The theoretical frame for this study is formed by the notion of ‘hauntology’, a trend in recent critical and psychoanalytical work that attempts to link the theme of the ghost to textuality in general

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2010
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Provided by: Enlighten

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