Visions of hell: the scène infernale in the tragédies-lyriques of lully

One of the most dramatic and effective types of scene found in Lully's tragédies-lyriques is the scène infernale, which depicts Hell and its monstrous inhabitants. This discussion addresses three main questions: 1) what were the origins of the scène infernale in French musical theatre; 2) what are the functions of the various types of infernal character employed by Lully and his poets; and 3) how do Lully's representations of Hell reflect the precepts of 17th-century French absolutism. This discussion first examines the origins of the scène infernale in the fête de cour of the 16th century, the ballet de cour and French theatre of the 17th century, and Italian opera. Next, the characters found in Lully's scènes infernales are divided into four categories, each of which is examined in context. Finally, Lully's depictions of Hell itself are examined and the Underworld is revealed to be a well-regulated kingdom of peace and contentment ruled over by a just sovereign. 

Desmond Hosford
Author affiliation
Music Department, City University of New York Graduate School, USA