Britten composed this in the summer of 1975 for the mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, who gave its premiere at the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival. It is a powerful monodrama accompanied by string orchestra, percussion and harpsichord, and the structure of the work is modelled on the baroque cantata form. Britten adapted the text himself from Robert Lowell's translation of Racine's five-act Phèdre.
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