So great and pure is the love between Hippolyte and Aricie that even the goddess Diane will do everything she can to protect it. This will not be an easy task, as Aricie is the last survivor of the Pallantids, mortal enemies of Hippolyte’s father, Thésée, the King of Athens. When a report arrives that Thesѐe has followed a loyal friend into the underworld, everything changes.
With his father dead, Hippolyte graciously offers to step aside and let his half-brother, son of Thésée and Phѐdre take up the throne instead. He thinks that by rejecting the glory and honor of becoming king will allow him to quietly marry his beloved Aricie. However, unknown to all but her closest friend, Phѐdre has been in love with her stepson since they first met. Now that her husband is dead, it is both legal and honorable for her to marry her stepson, and for him to take the throne. When she makes her intentions towards Hippolyte clear he cannot believe what he is hearing; how could he marry the woman he knows as his mother, and reject the woman he loves?
Thésée returns from the underworld, with the help of his father Neptune, and finds his wife and son fighting. Believing his son has tried to attack his wife, he banishes him from the kingdom. Thésée once again asks for Neptune’s help, and a great monster rises from the sea and kills Hippolytus. Phѐdre cannot believe that she has caused Hippolyte’s death, and poisons herself, after admitting everything to Thésée. Knowing now that Hippolyte was innocent, Thésée also considers ending his life, but Neptune stops him.
Neptune tells him that Hippolyte could not die; destiny, and Diane, had other plans for him. He will live, but Thésée will never again be allowed to see him. Instead, Hippolytus is finally brought to Aricie, and the two of them are married by Diane herself, to rule as king and queen of Diane’s domain.
Although it fell out of popularity after its first performances, Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie has gained popularity in more recent years, and is considered to be an almost perfect example of baroque opera.
Hippolyte et Aricie guide sections