Les surprises de l'Amour

Les surprises de l'Amour is an opéra-ballet in two entrées (three or four in later versions) and a prologue by the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. It was first performed in Versailles on 27 November 1748. The opera is set to a libretto by Gentil-Bernard. According to the usage of the time, it was originally just billed as a "ballet" [1] and was only later classified by scholars as an opéra-ballet,[2] although its content might more precisely ascribe it to the ballet héroïque genre.

The original 1748 version consisted of a prologue and two entrées (acts), "La lyre enchantée" and "Adonis". For its 1757 revival, Rameau cut the prologue and added a third entrée, "Anacréon". The composer had written another opera under the title Anacréon in 1754. The earlier work has a libretto by Louis de Cahusac and a completely different plot. Both are linked by the figure of the ancient Greek lyric poet Anacreon. William Christie and Marc Minkowski have recorded the 1757 Anacréon separately. The complete 1757 Les surprises de l'Amour did not appear on disc until Sébastien d'Hérin's recording in 2013.

Performance history

The work was commissioned by Madame de Pompadour to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and premiered at the third-season opening of her Théâtre des Petits Appartements for the inauguration of the Theatre's new venue upon the Grand Escalier des Ambassadeurs (Ambassadors’ Grand Staircase) in the Palace of Versailles,[3] starring Madame De Pompadour herself in two of the original soprano roles, Urania and Venus. In its first form, the work was composed of an allegorical prologue relating to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, "Le retour d’Astrée", and of two entrées, "La lyre enchantée" and "Adonis". Les surprises de l'amour was the first opera specially written by Rameau for the Théâtre des Petits Appartements and was also his first work that was given in the course of its programmes. It was not particularly successful: scenery, costumes, machinery and the new theatre venue were much admired, but the opera itself got the king to openly yawn and to confess he "would like better a comedy".[4]

The work was revived at the Paris Opéra in 1757 to inaugurate the new directors, François Francœur and François Rebel. The prologue, which was no longer relevant, was cut, and a new overture was performed in its place. The two original entrées were heavily revised: "Adonis" was renamed "L'enlèvement d’Adonis" ("The rape of Adonis") and a third entrée, "Anacréon", was added. Its first run lasted until 14 August 1757, but only its second and third entrées were performed after 10 July[5] (the original La lyre enchantée was replaced by a version of Les sibarites, an acte de ballet by Rameau to a libretto by Jean-François Marmontel, first performed in 1753). The different entrées were swapped around at various times for later performances and the "self-sufficiency of each portion of Les Surprises de l’Amour made the tripartite work a likely source of material for the programs of fragments growing popular in the years before the Revolution".[5]

Writing in Grove Music Online, Graham Sadler considers the air "Nouvelle Hébé, charmante Lycoris" for Anacreon's bass part and the "ravishing, chromatic sommeil" to be "especially fine", and the whole entrée to be the best piece of the opera. Despite the opinion reported by Charles Collé that the 1757 version "[smelt] of old age" (Rameau was by then 73),[6] Sadler believes that "the new and revised music is almost invariably more interesting than that of the original", and that "the airs de ballet are, as always, amazingly inventive". Spire Pitou partly shared Sadler's appreciation, he states that "Rameau’s most striking passage in Les Surprises de l’Amour was the 'sleep music' in [the] concluding act".[5]


Role Voice type/
dancing character
Premiere cast,
27 November 1748
Cast of the Palais-Royal first performance,
31 May 1757
(conductor: )
Prologue: "Le Retour d'Astrée" ("Astraea's return")
cut from 1757 version
Vulcain basse-taille
The Duke of Ayen
Astrée soprano Mme de Brancas [7]
Un Plaisir ("a Pleasure") soprano Mme de Marchais [8]
Le Temps ("Time") basse-taille the Marquis of La Salle[9]
First (1757: Second) entrée: "La lyre enchantée" ("The enchanted lyre")
Uranie soprano Mme de Pompadour Marie-Jeanne Fesch "Mlle Chevalier"
L'Amour ("Cupid") soprano Mme de Marchais [10]
Parténope soprano [11] Marie Fel
Linus basse-taille (1748)/
haute-contre (1757)
M. de la Salle François Poirier
Apollon basse-taille [11] Henri Larrivée
Terpsichore dancer Louise-Madeleine Lany
Les Muses dancers Mlles Coupée, Marquise, Chevrier, Riquet
Sirènes ("sirens") dancers Mlles Deschamps, Mopin, Pagés, Chaumart
Élèves de Terpsichore ("Terpsichore’s pupils") dancers Mrs Dubois, Lelièvre, Balety, Beat
sylvains et Dryades ("sylvans and Dryads") dancers Melles Lyonois, Fleury, Morel, Armand, Thételingre;
Mrs Lyonois, Rivet, Trupty, Dupré (fils), Hus
Second (1757: First) entrée: "Adonis" (1748) or "L'enlèvement d'Adonis" ("The rape of Adonis") (1757)
Vénus soprano Mme de Pompadour Mlle Davaux
L'Amour ("Cupid") soprano Mme de Marchais Marie-Jeanne Larrivée (née Lemière)
Diane soprano Mme de Brancas Louise Jacquet
Adonis basse-taille (1748)/
soprano (1757) [12]
the Duke of Ayen Mlle Dubois
Suivant de Diane ("a follower of Diane") haute-contre the Viscount of Rohan[13] [10]
Mercure haute-contre [11] Godart[14]
A nymph soprano Mlle Lhéritier
Endymion (ballet) dancer Gaétan Vestris
Diane (ballet) dancer Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Vestris
L'Amour ("Cupid") (ballet) dancer Mlle Guimard
Les Grâces ("the Graces") dancers Mlles Marquise, Coupée, Chevrier
Nymphes et chasseurs ("nymphs and hunters") dancers Mlles Louise-Madeleine Lany, Fleury, Morel, Thételingre;
Mrs Laval, Lyonois, Rivet, Trupty, Dupré
Jeux et Plaisirs ("Games and Pleasures") dancers Mlles Riquet, Pagés, Chomart, Mopin, Deschamps;
Mrs Dubois, Hamoche, Beat, Balety, Galodier
Third entrée: Anacréon (1757)
not in 1748 version
L'Amour ("Cupid") soprano Marie-Jeanne Larrivée (née Lemière)
Anacréon basse-taille Nicolas Gélin
La prêtresse de Bacchus ("priestess of Bacchus") soprano Mlle Davaux
Lycoris dancer Mlle Puvigné
Agathocle haute-contre François Poirier
Euricles haute-contre Muguet
Deux convives ("two guests") taille (baritenor)/basse-taille M Poussint; M Robin
Esclaves d'Anacréon ("Anacréon’s slaves") dancers Mlles Pagés, Chomart, Mopin, Deschamps;
Mrs Galodier, Hamoche, Feuillade, Gaétan Vestris
Les Grâces ("the Graces") dancers Mlles Marquise, Coupée, Chevrier
Egypans & Ménades ("Egypans and Maenads") dancers Mlles Lyonois, Riquet, Dumirey, Morel, Fleury;
Mrs Jean-Barthélémy Lany, Laval, Rivet, Hus, Dupré, Trupty
Jeux et Plaisirs ("Games and Pleasures") dancers Mrs Dubois, Lelièvre, Beat, Balety

Synopsis (1757 version)

1st entrée: "L'enlèvement d'Adonis" ("The rape of Adonis")

Topic: struggle between love and chastity [15]

The scene is laid in a vast forest sacred to Diana, where Adonis (soprano en travesti), as a follower of the chaste goddess, abhors love as a terrible monster jeopardizing humans’ peace of mind, but at the same time complains about no longer feeling the lure of sylvan life. Cupid himself (soprano en travesti) descends into the forest and approaches Adonis in order to tear him from Diana and to hand him over to Venus, who is in love with him. When Venus (soprano) arrives upon the scene, she easily succeeds in getting the better of Adonis’ scruples and, supported by Cupid, they resolve to flee in order to shun Diana's dreadful wrath. When Diana (soprano) enters the scene, she charges Cupid with the abduction of credulous Adonis and entreats vengeance of heaven and hell. Mercury (haute-contre) then descends onto the scene assuring the enraged goddess that Venus will return Adonis to her, and the goddess of love re-enters over a cloud accompanied by Cupid and Adonis disguised as Cupid, so that Diana cannot tell them apart. Since Adonis refuses to reveal himself, Diana decides to withdraw for fear of possibly choosing Cupid, her bitterest enemy. The entrée goes on firstly to a ballet celebrating the coming wedding of Venus and Adonis, as in the distance Diana herself (ballerina) is shown to be falling in love with a sleeping Endymion (male dancer), and then to further more elaborate ballets representing Diana and Cupid's(ballerina en travesti) meeting, Cupid's wakening Endymion and eventually Endymon's making love to Diana and his admission onto her cart. The entrée ends in a festive chorus accompanied by a general dance.

2nd entrée: "La lyre enchantée" ("The enchanted lyre")

Topic: struggle between love and indifference [16]

The scene is laid in a country valley at the foot of Montparnasse. The siren Parthenope (soprano) is in love with the musician Linus (haute-contre), but Urania (soprano), the Muse of astrology, urges him to beware of traps of love passions, for gods alone can come through them unharmed, while they will always cost humans their peace of mind. However, after her departure, Linus and Parthenope meet and confess their mutual love, whereupon the siren proposes taking vengeance on the Muses and on their enduring struggle against love ardour: for such a purpose she will leave her enchanted lyre behind, so that Urania may fall under its magic spell. The muse re-enters looking for Linus and picks the instrument, a simple touch being enough to immediately make her sing a song of love for him despite herself. Yet, to her great shame, he maintains his love to Parthenope and only Apollo’s (basse-taille) arrival gets to settle the matter: he gives Urania his lyre so as to break the spell and invites the Muses and Sirens to combine their respective talents to form "the sweet chains that lead to pleasures". The entrée closes with a ballet performed by the Muses and Sirens under the guidance of Terpsichore (ballerina).

3rd entrée: Anacréon

Topic: struggle between love and inebriety [17]

The scene is laid in Teos at the poet Anacreon's house, where a feast is being held: the landlord (basse-taille), his guests, Agathocle (haute-contre) and Euricles (haute-contre), and the rest of his suite are celebrating Bacchus, the local patron god. Anacreon addresses to his beautiful slave girl, Lycoris (ballerina), a warm request that she cheer up the party with the bloom of her youth and that she be the priestess of all gods he adores, including Cupid as well as Bacchus (aria: "Nouvelle Hébé, charmante Lycoris"). As she is dancing and Anacreon singing, however, an inflamed symphony is suddenly heard and the priestess of Bacchus bursts into the scene, followed by the Maenads, objecting to the festivities on account of their profane character and of their mingling together the cults of their god and of Cupid. A ballet follows thereupon representing the confrontation between Anacreon's suite and Bacchus’ followers, but eventually Anacreon and his guests yield to the priestess’ demands and agree to worship Bacchus alone. As the Bacchantes go off the stage and Lycoris, as a symbol of love, is driven away, a ravishing sweet music slowly sends the whole drunken party to sleep. In his dreams Anacreon is visited by Cupid (soprano en travesti) and informed that Lycoris is dying of grief because she has been deserted for Bacchus by the insensitive man she is in love with. As he realises he is such a man, Anacreon throws himself at Cupid's feet imploring the god to return Lycoris to him, for he is willing to forgo everything else for her. Lycoris re-enters the stage accompanied by the Graces, but, as Anacreon is singing Cupid's praises, a prelude foretells the return of Bacchus’ followers: they cannot however shrink from bowing down before the present god of love and paying homage to his statue, while Cupid's retinue pay homage to Bacchus’ as well, and the two dancing parties mingle together under the guidance of Lycoris. The entrée ends in a chorus and in a contredanse accompanied by sistrums and "other Bacchic instruments".


Les surprises de l'Amour (complete)

  • Les surprises de l'Amour (1757 version, i.e. three entrées: L'enlèvement d'Adonis; La lyre enchantée; and Anacréon) The orchestra and chorus of Les Nouveaux Caractères, conducted by Sébastien d'Hérin (Glossa, 2013).

Anacréon only


  1. cf. the 1757 libretto title page reproduced in Le magazin de l’opéra baroque (Page: "Les surprises de l'amour") Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine and Charles Collé’s review of the 1748 premiere (ibid)
  2. Sadler, op. cit.
  3. The theatre, which was also known as the Théâtre des Petits Cabinets, had begun its performances in early 1747 and, on account of its success, had had to be completely refitted in 1748 and moved onto the Grand Escalier des Ambassadeurs: it could be completely taken apart in 14 hours and then re-assembled in another 24 (Lever, op. cit., p. 97), and was rumoured to have cost the incredible sum of two millions livres, having a seating capacity of 40 spectators and 40 musicians, with a royal box opposite the scene and privileged boxes on either side. The statutes had been drawn up by Madame de Pompadour herself, who had secured great privileges for actresses: they alone were entitled to choose programmes and to settle rehearsals and revivals, and were even permitted a half an hour delay before being fined for late coming. The Duke of La Vallière had been appointed director of the theatre, François Rebel the conductor, Bernard de Bury the chorus-master, and Jean-Baptiste Dehesse the dance-master. All singers were noble courtiers. The theatre was closed in 1751, at the end of its fourth season, when theatre performances were banned from Versailles, and Mme de Pompadour had to relocate her theatrical activities to her new Bellevue Palace
  4. Éditorial du mois (December 2006): “Le Théâtre des Petits Appartements”, and Page: “Les surprises de l’amour”, in Le magazin de l’opéra baroque Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Pitou, op. cit.
  6. "Un ouvrage ... qui sent la vieillesse" (Journal et Mémoires de Charles Collé sur les hommes de lettres, les ouvrages dramatiques et les événements les plus mémorables du règne de Louis XV (1748-1772), Paris, Didot, 1868, p. 93).
  7. née Marie-Angélique Frémyn de Moras, the thirty-eight-year-old dowager Duchess of Brancas became quite a good friend of Madame de Pompadour (Lever, op. cit., passim), but the memoirs she later wrote tell the history of the former mistress to Louis XV, Marie-Anne de Mailly-Nesle, Duchess of Châteauroux. They were published under the titles of Mémoires de la duchesse de Brancas sur Louis XV et Mme de Châteauroux. Édition augmentée d’une préface et de notes par Louis Lacour (Paris, Jouaust, 1865) and Mémoires de la duchesse de Brancas, suivis de la correspondance de Mme de Châteauroux et d'extraits des Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de Perse, publiés avec préface, notes et tables par Eugène Asse (Paris, Librairie des bibliophiles, 1890). They have been lately republished by Gallimard: Madame de Brancas, Histoire de Mme de Châteauroux, Paris, Collection: Le Cabinet des lettrés, 2005, ISBN 2-07-077363-9
  8. née Élisabeth-Jeanne (or Élisabeth-Josèphe) de Laborde, the Baroness of Marchais was a distant cousin-in-law of Madame de Pompadour’s as the wife of Gérard Binet, the king’s prime “valet de chambre” (Page: “Le Devin du Village”, in Le magazine de l'opéra baroque Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine). After being widowed in 1780, the following year she married the Count of Angiviller and was still alive at the beginning of the French Empire (Lever, op. cit., p. 283, note: 18), after having shrewdly come through the Reign of Terror
  9. full name: Marie-Louis Caillebot de La Salle; for further biographical information, cf. (in French) WikiManche, ad nomen
  10. Role unperformed in 1757
  11. Role unperformed at the premiere
  12. the originally bass-bariton part was transposed for soprano in the 1757 revival; all online sources state Mlle Dubois as the performer
  13. Louis-Auguste de Rohan-Chabot, Viscount of Rohan, who later got the title of Viscount of Chabot and Count of Jarnac, used to perform the major haute-contre roles in Madame de Pompadour’s theatres (as, for instance, the protagonist of Lully’sAcis et Galathée” in 1749). For further biographical information about Rohan, cf. (in French) M. le Chevalier de Courcelles, Histoire généalogique et héraldique des pairs de France, des grands dignitaires de la couronne, des principales familles nobles du royaume, et des maisons princières de l’Europe, précédée de la généalogie de la maison de France, Paris, chez l’auteur & Arthus Bertrand, Libraire, 1827, tome huitième, p. 210 (the page is accessible on-line in books.google; consulted 2 April 2010)
  14. A rather obscure Godart is stated by the 1757 original libretto as the performer of the role of Mercure. A tenor bearing the same name (although spelled Godard) is generally reported as the first performer of the male title role in Giraud and Montan-Berton’s "Deucalion et Pyrrha" (1755), and is also credited by GluckGesamtausgabe with the leading role of Ali in Gluck's La rencontre imprévue (Vienna, 1764). According to Bruce Alan Brown he "had made his Parisian debut in the title role of Rameau's Pygmalion in 1752" ("Gluck's Rencontre Imprévue and Its Revisions"; Journal of the American Musicological Society, 36, 1983, p. 503).
  15. for the unabridged French libretto, see Rameau Le site, page: "L'Enlèvement d'Adonis"
  16. for the unabridged French libretto, see Rameau Le site, page: “La Lyre enchantée”
  17. for the unabridged French libretto, see Rameau Le site, page: “Anacréon”


  • (in French) Lever, Évelyne, Madame de Pompadour, Perrin, Paris, 2000, ISBN 978-2-262-01225-0 (consulted edition: (in Italian) Madame de Pompadour. Passioni e destino di una favorita, Mondadori, Cles, 2010, ISBN 978-88-04-51762-7)
  • Pitou, Spire, The Paris Opéra. An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers – Rococo and Romantic, 1715-1815, Greenwood Press, Westport/London, 1985, ISBN 0-313-24394-8
  • Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Grove (Oxford University Press), New York, 1997, ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2
Online sources

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