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Gluck
Alceste
English
Title Page
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
French
Synopsis
Italian
Synopsis
Title Page
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3

 

Overture

Act I

 
Scene 1
The grand square in the city of Pherae, bounded by the Royal
Palace with its great door and balcony above.
As the curtain rises the whole square is seen crowded with People variously disposed. They all bear in their hands olive branches decked with ribbons, symbols of supplication and show signs of great affliction. To the right is an altar on which incense is burning, to the left Evander, Ismene and some of the leading citizens. On the balcony of the Royal Palace, preceded by a sudden trumpet fanfare, a Herald appears.
 
Herald (appearing on the balcony)
People who grieve
at the fate of Admetus,
mourning in him more the father
than the ruler, hear these words:
His last day is at hand,
there is no help, no hope;
shepherds in their hovels,
and the kings on their thrones
are equally
the prey of inexorable death.
 
People
Ah, just gods,
what will become of this sad realm?
 
Ismene, Evander
Just gods, what will happen?
Ah, for us heaven’s anger
has no worse thunderbolt.
No! No! No worse thunderbolt.
 
People
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
Ismene
Ill-fated palace
that immersed in wailing
will resound with plaintive voices!
Unhappy country that a host
of foreign arms will surround!
Unhappy country, ill-fated palace!
 
People
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
(Mime expressing desolation and grief)
 
Evander
Loving vassals, today our king receives
a just reward for his great virtues
in the common grief
but vain is this weeping for him;
to the prayers, to vows
the Gods are not propitious.
Let us go to the temples
to offer victims and gifts;
let us consult The Oracle at least,
at least to know whether in such grave danger
there is any mercy for us, or council.
 
People, Ismene, Evander
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
Evander
Why does fawning happiness smile
serenely on tyrants,
and the just groan in the chains
of unmitigated adversity?
Why? Why?
 
People, Ismene, Evander
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
Evander
Be silent:
ah, the palace doors open.
Oh God! My heart trembles:
my thoughts conjure up
a thousand images of woe.
Come, let us go with compassion
to console the grieving queen,
but no, wait, overwhelmed by her grief
with her sorrowful children
she herself approaches.
 
 
Scene 2
 
People
Wretched Admetus! Poor Alcestis!
Painful images, sad symbols
of sorrow, of tears and of pity.
Who amid the embraces,
who amid the laments
of little children, innocent children
will console the suffering mother?
 
Alcestis (comes out of the palace, holding by the hand her two children, Eumelus and Aspasia)
People of Thessaly,
ah never more justified was your weeping;
to you no less than to these
innocent children is Admetus father.
I lose a dear husband and you your beloved king.
Our only hope, our love
this cruel fate takes from us,
and in so grave a disaster I do not know
which to feel sorry for first,
the realm, myself or my children.
It rests only for us the pity of the gods
to implore, to obtain.
I shall accompany you in your prayers,
to your sacrifices before the altar
a wretched mother, two unhappy children,
I shall thus show you a whole People weeping.
Perhaps at this terrible sight,
in which a grieving kingdom its feelings
and its vows declares,
at last the wrath of heaven will be placated.
 
I do not ask, eternal gods,
that all heaven should be serene for me.
But at least let some ray of pity
comfort my suffering.
No-one understands my ills,
nor the terror that fills my breast,
who does not have the love of a wife,
the heart of a mother.
 
Eumelus
Mother, do not torment yourself so.
Mother, you taught me, you remember…
 
Aspasia
Fair mother, you told me,
you remember…
 
Eumelus, Aspasia
…that the gods are just,
that they are merciful.
 
Alcestis
Dear children, my beloved husband’s
very likenesses,
ah, run to my sweet embraces,
ah, press yourselves to my bosom!
Cold is my blood in every vein,
When I think of you, oh beloved children!
Ah, more unfortunate than me
may fate at least not make you.
No-one understands my woes, etc.
 
People
Wretched children! Poor Alcestis!
Painful images, sad symbols, etc.
Who? Who will console the sad mother?
 
Alcestis
Let not the time pass,
my loyal People, in sorrowing.
Together the mercy of the Gods
Let us hasten to implore.
Already, at my signal, the sacred rite
is being prepared; I myself will give you
the example of humility, of reverence.
 
People, Ismene, Evander
To the temple! To the temple!
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
Ah, for us heaven’s anger, etc.
 
 
Scene 3
The temple of Apollo, with an altar and statue of the god. The High Priest, priests and priestesses stand around the altar. The People crowd into the temple.
 
High Priest
Disperse the black whirlwind
that roars around the throne.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind
that roars around the throne.
 
High Priest
Oh make it vanish, Apollo,
with your bright splendour.
 
Chorus
You know that as a wandering exile
Admetus once welcomed you…
 
High Priest
…that by the banks of the Amphrysus
you were his shepherd.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind
with your bright splendour.
 
High Priest (approaching the altar)
To you, God of Day,
to you, Heaven’s ornament and splendour,
these victims we sacrifice
to you the sacred flame consumes the scent of Araby.
With his black wings grim death
encumbers our love, our king.
Shine a ray for him,
bring serenity to Thessaly, unhappy in its weeping,
and hear the vows of a loving People.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind
that roars around the throne.
Oh make it vanish, Apollo,
with your bright splendour.
 
High Priest
Cease, ministers,
the sacrifice and prayers;
to the temple the queen comes:
at the mournful devout ceremony
she would be present.
 
 
Scene 4
(The Queen’s followers enter with gifts for the God, and the People with the priests stand to right and to left)
 
Alcestis (at the altar)
God, eternal, immortal,
if with your regard
that discovers the secrets of our thoughts
you have in me found a pure heart,
chaste desires, innocence and piety:
if I have acknowledged that all my fate depended on you,
and if your worship and this your image
was ever neglected by me,
accept in kindness my offerings, my prayers.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind, etc.
Oh make it vanish, etc.
 
High Priest
Your prayers, O Queen, your gifts
more propitiously than usual Apollo accepts.
By a hundred express signs
I am sure that he is present.
Lo, inspired by his sacred fury
I speak words that surpass the mortal.
Lo, celestial odours are spread,
about the image
burns a circle of light.
Ah, now these vaults and these walls
are filled with the mind of the God,
his decrees he himself will utter.
The altar sways,
the tripod shakes,
the ground trembles,
the temple resounds!
Oh People, in reverence, in fear
be silent, hear, and lay aside, Alcestis,
the pride of the crown;
bow to the ground your head,
listen and tremble.
 
The Oracle (through the mouth of the statue)
The king will die,
unless another dies for him.
 
Chorus
What a fateful decree
of new terror!
Let us fly, let us fly
from this place of horror.
 
(They all flee from the temple. Alcestis remains alone, with her children.)
 
 
Scene 5
 
Alcestis
Where am I, what did I hear?
What clear, fatal oracle
the God pronounced!
What a proud moment this is for me!
How many different feelings
rise in my heart!
Reverence, love, wonder,
fear, weakness and virtue:
all in turn crowd together in my bosom.
I am so lost in unaccustomed turmoil,
and new, that I seek myself within me
and do not find myself.
This then is the help
that I awaited from Heaven!
My husband will die,
if another does not die for him!…
To whom to suggest it!…
From whom to hope for it!…
To what cruel decree
each has left me.
Of my faithful followers I see none…
To all, life is dear…
The best gift this is
that the Gods can make…
Wretched Admetus! Unhappy prince!
Where to find one who is willing,
in order to prolong your days,
to let himself and his life pass into oblivion?
Is there any that loves you so much?
Ah! I do!
Now all shining in my mind
appears the great idea.
Now with sublime ardour my heart is filled.
Who so of me, of my will
makes himself master? Ah!
I recognise the God,
the God moves within me.
He inspires me to glorious sacrifice.
His will is that Alcestis
provide today a generous example
for faithful wives in future days.
 
Shades, ghosts, companions of death,
I do not ask of you, I do not want mercy.
If I take away from you a beloved husband,
I abandon to you a faithful wife;
I do not complain of this my lot,
this exchange I do not call cruel.
Shades, ghosts, companions of death,
let not such just piety offend you.
An unknown force that I feel in my breast
gives me courage, spurs me on to the test,
makes me greater than myself.
 
 
Scene 6
(Alcestis is in the act of parting withEumelus and Aspasia; then Evander rushes in, followed by Ismene from another side.)
 
Evander
Ah, hurry, O Queen,
in a short time Admetus will live no more:
the horror of death already rushes to his face.
At least let him see again his dear wife.
 
 
 
Ismene
Alcestis, ah hurry, ah do not delay!
He asks for you, the king calls for you.
He feels death near and with him
does not see his wife,
finds not his children;
always on his lips he has your name
and looks around with heavy
and languishing eyes, seeking you.
 
Alcestis
Now the great act shall be accomplished!
 
Evander
From the gods, ah well you know!,
there is no more to hope.
Come and embrace your unhappy husband
but once more.
Let him go to the tomb at least happy
with that sweet comfort.
What more is there for him in this
his mortal agony?
 
Alcestis (with majestic determination)
He has Alcestis.
(She hurries away with her children.)
 
 
Scene 7
(Evander, Ismene and then, in ones and twos, the ministers of the temple, priests, citizens, men and women, from various sides, some questioning the aforementioned, who, in the act of parting seemed about to follow Alcestis, but now remain on the stage.)
 
Two Citizens
And did no-one offer himself?
…And still none comes forward?
 
Ismene
This hope is vain.
 
Evander
Everyone loves himself…
 
Ismene
…loves life.
Other Voices
And can we leave…
…our old parents…
…and our children…
…and our relations…
…and our spouses…
…the things we love…
…so loving…
…so tender…
 
All
…to abandon them in grief,
to leave them weeping?
 
Voices
I do not have the heart…
…I do not have the courage.
I tremble in thinking of it.
Oh such a woeful day!
And the queen?
And Alcestis?
 
Ismene
She hurries to her husband…
 
Evander
She has gone. Ah she does not resist
her wretched grief.
 
Ismene
…and for her too there remains
only to tremble.
 
Voices
Oh Alcestis!
Oh Admetus!
Just king!
Gentle father!
Ah do not complain
of a faithful People…
…do not accuse them of feigned love…
…of false loyalty.
 
 
 
 
All
Too much does heaven demand,
too much is asked, too much is asked of us.
 
He who serves and he who rules
is born to suffering;
the throne is not
the height of happiness.
There is weeping,
cares, feelings,
anxieties, suspicions –
tyrants of kings.
(They all leave in various directions.)
 
 
 

 


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