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30/6/2018 Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia

Alceste (Gluck)
Alceste, Wq. 37 (the later French version is Wq. 44), is an opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck from 1767. The libretto
(in Italian) was written by Ranieri de' Calzabigi and based on the play Alcestis by Euripides. The premiere took place
on 26 December 1767 at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

Preface and reforms
Performance history
Plagiarism by Mozart
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Synopsis, with French Version Edits
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
External links

Preface and reforms
When Gluck published the score of Alceste in 1769, he added a preface written by Calzabigi, which set out their ideals
for operatic reform.[1] 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
accompanied rather than secco recitative
simpler, more flowing melodic lines
an overture that is linked by theme or mood to the ensuing action
Alceste also has no role for the castrato voice, although Gluck would return to using a castrato in his next opera, Paride
ed Elena, and even rewrite the tenor role of Admetus for the soprano castrato Giuseppe Millico, in the 1770 revival of
Alceste in Vienna.[2]

Performance history 1/6
30/6/2018 Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia

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 at the Paris Opera on 23 April 1776 in the second Salle du Palais-
Royal. The opera is usually given in the revised version, although this is
sometimes translated into Italian. Both versions are in three acts. Revivals
of the opera, as revised by Berlioz, were staged in 1861, starring Pauline
Viardot, and 1866 at the Paris Opéra.[3]

Revised for presentation in Paris, Alceste became an essentially new work, The Death of Alcestis by Angelica
the translation from Italian to French necessitating several changes in the
musical declamation of text, with certain scenes significantly reorganized
with new or altered music. Some of the changes were made upon the advice of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of Gluck's
greatest French admirers. The bulk of the libretto adaptation, however, was made by French aristocrat François-Louis
Gand Le Bland Du Roullet, with improvements by the composer.

Gluck fought several efforts to make the new version of Alceste conform to French tastes, resisting pressure to end the
opera with an extended ballet. The new libretto does, however, introduce several subsidiary characters for dramatic
variety, and, following the example of Euripides, on whose work the libretto is loosely based, even calls in Hercules in
the final act. [4]

Maria Callas starred as Alceste in a production at La Scala in 1954 which was recorded. It was her first collaboration in
a stage performance with director Luchino Visconti.

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 24 January 1941, featured Marjorie Lawrence. There were
four more performances that season, two starring Lawrence and two starring Rose Bampton. In the 1951/52 season,
Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad sang Alceste in five performances, including her farewell performance with the
company on 1 April 1952. On 6 December 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 11 February 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, while
Catherine Naglestad appeared in ten performances of Alceste with the Stuttgart State Opera between January and
March 2006. It was given by The Santa Fe Opera as part of its summer festival season in August 2009 with Christine
Brewer in the title role.[5]

The first UK performance took place at the King's Theatre, London in 1795. More recent productions have included
those in Scotland at Ledlanet in 1972 and by Scottish Opera in 1974.

Plagiarism by Mozart
In Don Giovanni, written in 1787, twenty years after Alceste and the year Gluck died, Mozart used exactly the same
chord progression for the Commendatore speaking to Don Giovanni in the garden scene that Gluck used for the line of
the High Priest when saying that Alceste will die if no one takes her place. Hector Berlioz noted how this section of Don
Giovanni was "heavily in-inspired or rather plagiarized".[6] Berlioz discussed the authenticity of some of the arias. For
example, when Gluck went to Vienna, an aria was added to act 3. Berlioz came to the conclusion that Gluck was under
so much pressure that he let it happen. Berlioz notes Gluck added corrections during rehearsals, and
misunderstandings in the score, due to what Berlioz calls Gluck's "happy-go-lucky" style of writing.[7]

Roles 2/6
30/6/2018 Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia

Original version Revised version cast
Voice type cast
Role Role Vienna,
Paris, 1776
1767[8] Conductor:
Conductor: –

Alceste (Alcestis), Queen of
Alceste, Queen of Thessaly
Antonia Rosalie
Pherae in Thessaly soprano
Bernasconi Levasseur
Admeto (Admetus), her
Admète, her husband
Giuseppe Joseph
husband tenor
Tibaldi Legros
Eumelo and Aspasia, Their two children
their children (silent characters) trebles (1767)

Evandro (Evander), a Evandre, leader of the Pherae Antonio Thirot (o

con‡dant of Admetus people tenor
Pilloni[9] Tirot)

Ismene, a con‡dante of
Alcestis (no role) soprano
(no role)
High Priest of Apollo High Priest baritone Nicolas Gélin

(no role) Hercule (Hercules) baritone (no role) Henri


Apollon (Apollo), protector of

the house of Admetus baritone
Infernal deity Thanathos, an infernal deity bass De La Suze

(no role) Choryphaei (chorus leaders) soprano, contralto,

baritone, bass
(no role)
Oracle bass
Herald baritone
Chorus (1767): courtiers, citizens, Alcestis's
maids of honour, priests of Apollo, gods of the underworld
Chorus (1776): of‡cers of the palace, Alcestis's attendants, citizens of Pherae, infernal deities, priests and
priestesses in the temple of Apollo.

Italian Original Version[11]

Place: Classical Pherae, Thessaly[12]

Act 1
A herald announces to the people of Thessaly that King Admeto is gravely ill and
that there is little hope. Evandro calls upon all to pray to the oracle at the temple of The Death of Alceste by
Apollo. Alceste joins them and asks Apollo for pity. The oracle says Admeto can be Pierre Peyron (1785)
rescued if another voluntarily sacrifices his life. This causes great consternation.
Alone, Alceste agonizes whether to give her life for that of her husband.

Act 2 3/6
30/6/2018 Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia

In a dense forest dedicated to the gods of the underworld, Ismene asks Alceste why she is leaving her husband and
children. Alceste tells Ismene of her intentions. Meanwhile, Admeto has a miraculous recovery to the joy of all
Thessaly. Evandro tells him that someone has apparently sacrificed himself for the king. When Alceste appears, he
questions her until she confesses. The desperate king hurries into the temple to plead with the gods. However, Alceste
says good-bye to the children.

Act 3
The decision of the gods is not revoked. The people lament the approaching death of Alceste. Having said good-bye to
Alceste, Admeto decides to follow her into death. Then the heavens open, Apollo descends and proclaims that the gods
have given them their lives as a reward for their steadfast love.

Synopsis, with French Version Edits
Synopsis reference.[4]

The overture is stately, noble, and tragic, looking ahead to some of Mozart's minor-key works. The choir propels much
of the action in the first two acts, and Gluck's vocal settings are particularly elegant, taking advantage of the French
language's smooth rhythms, although the writing is rather static in its sad dignity.

Act 1
King Admetus is dying, and his people are in despair. The god Apollo refuses their animal sacrifice, proclaiming that
Admetus will live only if another person is sacrificed in his place. Queen Alceste believes she is the victim Apollo has in
mind, but declares she will surrender her life only for love. (Aria: "Divinites du Styx")

Act 2
The people celebrate the king's recovery. Admetus does not realize that Alceste has volunteered to die in his place, and
his wife won't give herself up until the record is set straight. When he learns the truth, Admetus believes that Alceste is
in effect abandoning him, and would prefer to die himself.

Act 3
The people, sorrowing again, prepare the royal couple's children for sacrifice in their place. Admetus' friend Hercules
arrives and promises to conquer death on his behalf, and travels to Hades. Meanwhile, Alceste has already arrived at
the gates of hell; Admetus tries to dissuade her, but she is sacrificing herself for love, rather than as some heroic act.
She dies, but Hercules rescues her—except that now Alceste seems nearly insane. Apollo arrives, promises Hercules
immortality, and leaves Admetus and Alceste in a world that seems devoid of death. The work ends with a joyful

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) 4/6
30/6/2018 Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia

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.


1. An online English translation of the preface can be found in the theatre programme: Christoph Willibald Gluck,
Alceste (http://www.wiener‑‑Alceste‑en.pdf), Wiener
Staatsoper, Season 2012-1013, pp. 41-43.
2. Hayes, p. 62. For Millico, Gluck's favourite singer and intimate friend, the composer had already transposed up the
originally contralto role of Orfeo in the first Italian performance of Orfeo ed Euridice, at Parma in 1769 (cf.: Le feste
d'Apollo and Orfeo ed Euridice#Revised versions). In 1774, while travelling through Paris, he was also called upon
to perform in private the French version of Orphée et Eurydice (with Gluck himself at the harpsichord) before it
was premiered at the Opéra (Patricia Howard (ed.), C.W. von Gluck: Orfeo, Cambridge/New York/Melbourne,
Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 71, ISBN 0-521-29664-1).
3. The Hector Berlioz Website (
4. James Reel, Alceste (French version), opera in 3 acts (
n-opera-in-3-acts-wq-44-mc0002582735), p. 44 on
5. Craig Smith, "Lustrous music saves Alceste", The Santa Fe New Mexican (
search/#query=Lustrous+music+saves+Alceste), 3 August 2009.
6. Berlioz (1915), p. 85
7. Berlioz (1915), pp. 49–51
8. 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).
9. according to the Amadeusonline Almanach (
e=&Anno=1767&Giornata=&Testo=Alceste&Parola=Stringa) by Gherardo Casaglia, "Pulini"
10. this singer is usually reported solely under his surname; the alleged first name of Jean-Pierre is given only by the
Amadeusonline Almanach (
nata=&Testo=Jean-Pierre+Moreau&Parola=Stringa) by Gherardo Casaglia
11. Repertoire: Gluck: Alceste ( 8 May 2006 on
12. Woodstra, Chris; Brennan, Gerald; Schrott, Allen (September 2005), All Music Guide to Classical Music, Backbeat
Books, p. 505, ISBN 0-87930-865-6


Berlioz, Hector, tr. Edwin Evans,Gluck and his operas (,

London: Wm Reeves, 1915.
Hayes, Jeremy, "Alceste (ii) ('Alcestis')", in Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Grove
(Oxford University Press), New York, 1997, I, pp. 62–70, ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2
(in Italian) Dizionario dell'opera (, in "del Teatro" (online
magazine), Baldini Castoldi Dalai

External links
Alceste, Wq. 44: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
MetOpera database (
Italian libretto with English translation ( (
all&composer=gluck&opera=alceste&libretto_file=Italian/0_Title_Page.htm) 5/6
30/6/2018 Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia

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