This was the first of the elaborate programmes of festivities organised at Versailles by Louis XIV, which featured the first collaboration of Molière and Lully. Six days of fabulous entertainments which definitively established the legend of Versailles as a place of festivities.
From 7 to 13 May 1664, Louis XIV organised in honour of Anne of Austria, his mother, and queen Maria Theresa, a programme of festivities on the fantastic theme of the sorceress Alcine holding Roger and his doughty knights prisoners in her palace. The romantic interest, action and magic of the subject, drawn from a tale of Ariosto, invited the Court to a world of enchantment. The festivities were dedicated in reality to Mlle de La Vallière, the king’s mistress. The manager of his ballets, the Duc de Saint-Aignan, chose the subject, while Carlo Vigarani picked the setting. The latter, from Modena, had since 1659 directed the royal entertainments into which he introduced Italian stage machineries and sets.
For three days, the courtiers attended the equestrian parade of the king in the role of Roger, dressed in sumptuous fiery-red garments riding a horse whose harness was studded with gold, silver and precious stones. He was accompanied by knights dressed as splendidly who rode down the Royal Path (Green Carpet), followed by Apollo’s chariot. They rode to the palace of Alcine erected over the Rond-d’Eau, the future Apollo Fountain. Then followed a ‘ring race’ in which each knight had to use his lance to dislodge a ring hanging from a post. When night fell the park lit up with a thousand lights. Then followed a ballet on the theme of the Seasons while a magnificent feast was served by masked and costumed servants.
On the second day, when night fell, on the stage set up in the Royal Walk, Roger-Louis XIV presented to his ladies the comedy-ballet specially composed by Molière and Lully: La Princesse d’Elide. For the first time in France, theatre and opera, comedy and fantasy were combined. Shepherds and shepherdesses surrounded by fauns danced and sang to the music of flutes and violins. On the third day, the palace of Alcine was lit up in a fabulous fireworks display orchestrated by Vigarani. An astonishing floating whale preceded by its two whale calves carried Alcine and her servants.
The festivities continued with horse races, a lottery, a visit to the Menagerie and theatrical performances: Molière directed for the first time his celebrated play Tartuffe on the evening of the 12th of May. But, despite the king’s support, the play created a scandal and was banned. The Court went back to Fontainebleau the next morning. A marvellous dream had ended.