|Operas by Christoph Willibald Gluck|
Le cinesi (1754)
Alceste is an opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck. The libretto was written by Ranieri de Calzabigi (in Italian) and based on the play Alcestis by Euripides.
Preface and reforms
When Calzabigi published Alceste, he added a preface signed by Gluck, which set out their ideals for operatic reform. The opera displays the features set out in this manifesto, namely:
- no da capo arias
- little or no opportunity for vocal improvisation or virtuosic displays of vocal agility or power
- no long melismas
- a more predominantly syllabic setting of the text to make the words more intelligible
- far less repetition of text within an aria
- a blurring of the distinction between recitative and aria, declamatory and lyrical passages, with altogether less recitative
- accompanied rather than secco recitative
- simpler, more flowing melodic lines
- an overture that is linked by theme or mood to the ensuing action
- more prominence for the chorus, giving it, in imitation of classical Greek drama, an important role commenting on the events unfolding on the stage.
Alceste also has no role for the castrato voice, although Gluck would return to using a castrato in his next opera, Paride ed Elena.
The second of Gluck's so-called "reform operas" (after Orfeo ed Euridice), it was first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 26 December 1767. A heavily revised version with a French libretto by Leblanc du Roullet premiered in Paris on 23 April 1776. The opera is usually given in the revised version, although this is sometimes translated into Italian. Both versions are in three acts.
Maria Callas starred as Alceste at La Scala in 1954.
The Metropolitan Opera has presented Alceste in three different seasons, with four sopranos starring in a total of eighteen performances. The Met premiere of the opera, on January 24, 1941, featured Marjorie Lawrence. There were four more performances that season, two starring Lawrence and two starring Rose Bampton. In the 1951-52 season, Kirsten Flagstad sang Alceste in five performances, including her farewell performance with the company on April 1, 1952. On December 6, 1960, Eileen Farrell made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Alceste. She sang the role a total of eight times that season. Her final performance of the role, on February 11, 1961, marks the last time to date that the opera has been performed at the Met.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 1990 season with a performance of Alceste starring Jessye Norman.
In January through March 2006, Catherine Naglestad appeared in ten performances of Alceste with the Stuttgart State Opera.
|Voice type||Italian Premiere Cast |
December 26, 1767
(Conductor: - )
French Première Cast
April 23, 1776, 1884
(Conductor: - )
|Alceste (Alcestis)||Alceste||soprano||Antonia Bernasconi||Rosalie Levasseur|
|Admeto (Admetus)||Admète||tenor||Giuseppe Tibaldi||Joseph Le Gros|
|Ismene||(No role)||soprano||(No role)|
|Eumelio and Aspasia,
|(No role)||trebles||(No role)|
|(No role)||High Priest||baritone||(No role)||Gélin|
|(No role)||Hercule (Hercules)||baritone||(No role)||Henri Larrivée|
|High Priest / Apollo||Apollon (Apollo)||baritone||Laschi||Moreau|
- Place: Classical Pherae, Thessaly
At the court of King Admeto
A herald announces to the people of Thessaly that King Admeto is dying and that there is little hope. Evandro calls upon all to pray to the oracle at the temple of Apollo. Alceste joins them and asks Apollo for pity. The oracle says Admeto can be rescued if another voluntarily sacrifices his life. No one is willing to consider giving their life for the king except his wife, Queen Alceste. She agonizes over the difficult choice before her.
A temple in a dense forest dedicated to the gods of the underworld
Alceste's friend, Ismene, asks her why she is leaving her husband and children. Alceste tells Ismene of her intentions. Meanwhile, Admeto miraculously recovers to the joy of the kingdom. This happiness is short lived, as Evandro reveals that Alceste has agreed to sacrifice herself for the king. Alceste appears and Admeto questions her until she confesses. Distraught, the king hurries into the temple to plead with the gods for her life. Meanwhile, Alceste says good-bye to the children.
At the court of King Admeto
The gods refuse Admeto's requests to spare Alceste. The people lament the approaching death of their queen. Admeto says good-bye to Alceste and they tearfully part. Admeto reflects on the situation and decides to follow her into death. When he makes this choice, the heavens open, Apollo descends and proclaims that the gods will return Alceste as a reward for their steadfast love.
- Alceste (Original Italian version edited by Geraint Jones), Kirsten Flagstad, Raoul Jobin, Alexander Young, Marion Lowe, Thomas Hemsley, Joan Clark, Rosemary Thayer, Geraint Jones Orchestra and singers, Geraint Jones (Decca LP LXT 5273-5276;. c. 1952)
- Alceste with conductor Serge Baudo and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Released on CD in 1995 on the Orfeo label. Cast includes: Jessye Norman, Nicolai Gedda, Peter Lika, Robert Gambill, Roland Bracht, Kurt Rydl, and Bernd Weikl.
- Alceste (Vienna version) Ringholz/Lavender?Degerfeldt/Treichl, Drottningholm Theatre Chorus and Orchestra, Arnold Östman (Naxos, 1999)
- Alceste with conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, and the Monteverdi Choir. Released on CD and DVD on the Philips label in 2002. Cast includes Anne Sofie von Otter, Dietrich Henschel, Paul Groves, Yann Beuron, Joanne Lunn, Katherine Fuge, Nicolas Teste, and Ludovic Tezier among others.
- Alceste with conductor Charles Mackerras and Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Released on CD on the Ponto label in 2005. Cast includes: Elaine Mary Hall, Janet Baker, Janice Hooper-Roe, John Shirley-Quirk, Jonathan Summers, Mark Curtis, Matthew Best, Philip Gelling, and Robert Tear among others.
- MetOpera database
- Deborah Voigt
- ^ Roles and premiere cast in part from The New Kobbés Opera Book (1997), Earl of Harewood and Antony Peattie, eds. (G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York).