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The masque is set on the summit of Mount Caucasus, where Prometheus has been chained for aeons for the crime of stealing fire from the gods. His torment (a vulture continually pecks at his liver) has given him the gift of prophecy, and so Peleus comes to consult him about his forbidden love for the nymph Thetis, who is also being pursued by Jupiter. As the late Roger Fiske pointed out, this Wagnerian situation drew from Boyce some surprisingly dramatic music, with an unusual number of ensembles. In particular there is a fine ‘trembling’ chorus that accompanies Jupiter’s descent from the heavens, surely inspired by the Frost music in Purcell’s King Arthur, and a remarkable trio in which he rages against Peleus and Thetis, similarly inspired by the trio for Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea. But there are many places where the young Boyce had already developed a mature individual voice, such as Peleus’s forward-looking and beautifully scored aria of defiance against Jupiter, ‘Armed with love, and Thetis by’, or Jupiter’s aria ‘The fatal blessing I resign’, which combines an almost Bach-like contrapuntal complexity with heartfelt pathos.
from notes by Peter Holman © 1997