Alceste

Due to the restrictions Gluck imposed on his own work in a 1779 preface to the published score of Alceste, he paved the way for Opera to transition from the Baroque operas of his predecessors to the achievements of Mozart.

In his famous preface Gluck stipulated among several do’s and don’ts, no vocal embellishments, exclusively syllabic setting of the text, blurring the difference between aria and accompanied recitative, and no textual repeats.

Ironically, Mozart effected a major transition from the excesses of Baroque Opera while still putting to work many of the devices Gluck had fought against, including repeats, vocal embellishments, and separation of secco recitatives from arias and ensembles.

In Alceste Gluck took Calzabigi’s libretto based on Alkestis, a tragedy by Euripides about a Queen willing to give her life to save her husband’s, and wrought a stage work long in longueurs and short on truly inspired music. Other than the title character’s aria Divinités du Styx, one is hard put to think of another truly memorable moment in this 135 minute-long, three-act opera.

In the UNITEL/Cmajor CD, Dorothea Roschmann undertakes the title role with mixed results. The German soprano, a notable Lieder singer and recognized interpreter of light-lyric roles on which she has built an international career, here tries on for size the role of the tragic Queen of Thessaly.

The role of Alceste, long associated with large-voiced dramatic sopranos the likes of Maria Callas, Kirsten Flagstad, Eileen Farrell, Leyla Gencer, and, more recently, Jessye Norman, and Christine Brewer taxes the voice of Roschmann, now an older singer in her mid-fifties and well past the prime of a light-voiced soprano.

The role of King Admète is relegated by Gluck into a supporting one that does not appear until act two. Once he does show up, the American tenor Charles Castronuovo does a fine job with what little Gluck gives him to work with.

The Regieoper production by Antwerp-based choreographer Sidi Larki Cherkaoui comes off as portentously pretentious, with dance sequences that sport a largely-derivative kinetic vocabulary redolent of the work of fellow Belgian Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, along with sequences replete with much arm wiggling and meaningless still poses.

Ultimately the entire proceedings comes off as endlessly repetitive and unable to contribute anything to the driving forward of the story, notwithstanding the fine conducting of Antonello Manacorda at the helm of the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.

The Bayerische Staatsoper 2019 production of the 1776 Paris (French language) version of Gluck’s Alceste is now available as a single CD.

Rafael de Acha All About the Arts

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