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Alceste (Italian version)
  • Christoph Willibald von Gluck. Tragedia in three acts. 1767.
  • Libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi, after Euripides.
  • First performance at the Vienna Burgtheater on 26th December 1767.
Alceste (Alcestis), Queen of Pherae in Thessaly soprano
Admeto (Admetus), her husband tenor
Eumelo & Aspasia, their children sopranos
Evandro, confidant of Admeto tenor
Ismene, confidante of Alceste soprano
Herald bass
High Priest of Apollo baritone
Apollo baritone
Oracle baritone
God of the Underworld bass

Admetus is about to die, to the distress of the people of Thessaly and of his wife Alcestis and their two children. Ceremonial prayer to Apollo elicits the answer that Admetus will die that day, unless someone will take his place. Alcestis offers herself, in the forest at night, in a place sacred to the gods of the Underworld. Admetus, ignorant, as are others, of what Alcestis has done, recovers, rejoined now by his wife, who eventually reveals the sacrifice she has made. As she dies, Admetus tries to kill himself, but is prevented, reminded of his royal duty. Alcestis appears above, with the god Apollo, who allows her to return to her husband.

Gluck's Alceste , in contrast to the elaborate version of the story by Lully and Quinault, offers a much simpler and more human version of the legend. It is the second of Gluck's three reform operas, in which he collaborated with Ranieri de' Calzabigi. Choreography was by Noverre, allowing a greater degree of realism, relative simplicity of language, the elimination of conventional exit arias and of other elements perpetuated in the formal libretti of Metastasio. Gluck's 1769 Preface to his opera sets out his principles, and those of Calzabigi, very clearly, their aim for classical simplicity, in accordance with views current about the classical world, with which Alceste was intended to be more akin.


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