Opera Scotland

Alcestis Alceste

Music
Christoph Willibald Gluck (born Erasbach, 2 July 1714; died Vienna, 15 November 1787)

Text
Raniero da Calzabigi. Revised version by Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc du Roullet.

Source
Classical Greek play Alkestis by Euripides.

Premières
First performance: Vienna (Burgtheater), 26 December 1767.
Revised version: Paris (Opéra), 23 April 1776.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre), 30 April 1795.
First performance in Scotland: Ledlanet, Kinross-shire, 11 October 1972.
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 19 August 1974.

Background
By the time he came to compose Alceste for Vienna, Gluck had spent many years as a successful composer in the opera seria style. He and his collaborator Calzabigi were determined to introduce a new style of dramatic composition. The result is powerfully effective as drama and extremely difficult to perform well, but no longer contains the elements of obvious virtuosity to which audiences were accustomed. The subject had been a popular inspiration for opera composers including Lully (Alceste 1674) and Handel (Admeto 1727). Gluck and Calzabigi removed any plot elements not directly relevant, and the emotional centre of the opera became the noble simplicity of the character of Alcestis. In modern times, a number of great singers have been attracted to the role, including Kirsten Flagstad, Maria Callas, Julia Varady and Janet Baker.

Characters
Herald (baritone)
Evandre (tenor)
Alcestis, wife of Admetus (soprano)
High Priest of Apollo (baritone)
Admetus, King of Thessaly (tenor)
Hercules (baritone)
Thanatos (bass)
Voice of Apollo (baritone)

Plot Summary
Admetus is suffering from a fatal disease. The Oracle of Apollo has decreed that the king will only recover if another person willingly gives up his life. No one is willing to do this but for Alcestis. She resolves to die. After Admetus recovers he is horrified to discover the cost involved. Hercules arrives, and he goes down to the underworld to rescue Alcestis and bring her back to the world. The Oracle announces that Admetus and Alcestis are to be rewarded by both being restored to life, and Hercules’ own reward is to become a god.

The Cast

Admète
 King of Thessaly
Alceste
 Queen of Thessaly
Apollo
 
Choryphée
 
Dancer
 
Evandre
 leader of the people of Pherae
First Child
 of Alceste and Admète
Herald
 
Hercule
 Hercules, friend of Admète
High Priest
 of Apollo
Leader
 of the people
Oracle
 
Second Child
 
Thanatos
 an infernal deity

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