The essence of Jean Baptiste Lully's music was opulence, and hang the expense. As court composer to Louis XIV, he wrote, among other things, 19 operas, elaborate productions on which to hang paeans of praise to Louis. Not at all incidentally, his music was glorious and shaped the course of French style.

In its production of Lully's "Alceste" at the Prince George's Community College on Saturday and Sunday, the Prince George's Civic Opera made a valiant stab at remodeling his opera for a modern audience. For this American premiere, three of the five hours of material were cut - prologue, ballets, all the stuff extraneous to the story line and even some of that - with a narrator to fill in the bits and pieces. As a piece of musical theater, the results worked quite well, or at least as well as most opera stories work.

But this was a budget production and it showed, in costumes that looked like cardboard, dancers who couldn't dance at all, a few platforms for a set. In short, there was not even the slightest pretense of opulence, which makes one wonder why a Lully work was chosen in the first place.

In leading roles, Elizabeth Aubry as Alceste, Christiana Fox (a good actress) as Cephise and James Meeks as Admetus sang nicely. The rest of the cast was adquate.

Conductor Bruce Steeg had his hands full coordinating a timid sounding orchestra. The narration, however, was handled stylishly by the familiar voice of Renee Channey.