Directed by Jos Houben & Emily Wilson
Cupid & Death is a five-entrance masque, and one of the most intriguing musical dramas of 17th-century England. It is the only mask from the pre-Restoration period whose libretto and full score have survived. Its authors were contemporaries of a historically turbulent period: the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration. James Shirley (1596-1666), one of the most renowned playwrights of the time, wrote the libretto. His earlier plays are diverse: comedy, tragedy, masque… The composition of the music is attributed to Christopher Gibbons (1615-1676) and Matthew Locke (1621/3-1677), whose colorful compositions are not without influence on the work of Henry Purcell and his contemporaries.
Shirley’s libretto, based on Aesop’s fables, tells the story of the gods Cupid and Death who, staying at the same inn, have their bows exchanged by Chamberlain, resulting in total chaos. The topsy-turvy world reveals a horrific Nature filled with grotesque events: as young lovers fail, wise men fall madly in love and sworn enemies fall into each other’s arms. Finally, the god Mercury descends from heaven to restore earthly order. He punishes Cupid and Death and guides Nature back to paradise, where the slain lovers now reside in complete harmony.
The plot develops through dance, music and spoken theater. Anchored in the tradition of the mask, Cupid and Death nevertheless has a more coherent dramaturgy than the compositions of the time. At the same time, it covers a wide spectrum of expressions, from comic dialogues to grotesque dances to tragic narratives to abstract songs, dreamy choruses and a solemn climax. All of this makes Cupid & Death a precursor of the “semi-opera”, a typically English hybrid form. In this mask, words and music, visual arts and dance come together to tell a universal story of lethal love in a world without reference points.
Produced by the Théâtre de Caen and the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in coproduction with Correspondances
Produced by the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord