Underworld, ghosts, revivification: Gluck's Alceste in Bavaria

Underworld, ghosts, revivification: Gluck's Alceste in Bavaria

(All production images copyright Wilfried Hösl; Classical Explorer would like to express its thanks to Bayerische Staatsoper for access to the photos used in this article.)

An Early Music weekend it turns out: today, Gluck; tomorrow, Lassus.

Grace is one of the defining characteristics of Gluck's music; and, in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's staging we certainly find that in the prevalance of dance via his own troupe, the Dancers of the Compagnie Eastman, Antwerp. So it is that a mainly static staging is augmented by the beauty of movement itself in a performance that itself holds vocal gold in the form of Dorothea Röschmann as Alceste and Charles Castronovo as Admète. Some might prefer a more direct, dramatically involving staging, but Cherkaoui's staging means that moments when emotions come to the fore (Admète's entreaties that Alceste 'Banish sorrow for pleasure' for example) make their point all the more.

In approaching the work in this way, the interlacing, and interaction, between singers and dancers becomes in itself hypnotic. The chorus' role as commentatr thus becomes incredibly powerful: when they sing "Alceste is about to die" it takes on huge import

Although Alceste was published in Vienna in 1769 (with a famous preface that ourlines Gluck's operatic reforms, removing da capo arias, using accompanied recitative more syllabic word-setting and certainly an avoidance of melismas), Gluck revised the score for performances at the Paris Opéra in 1776, and it is that score that is used here. It is a remarkable tale of the sacrifice of life for love.

Fascinating to have the combination os Dorothea Röschmann and Charles Castronovo as Alceste and Admète respectively. Röschmann's voice is certainly powerful, as is her stage presence: an incredible "Divinités du Styx" is unforgettable.

Dorotea Röschmann as Alceste, with dancers

You can hear Röschmann in full magnificence at the start of this this promotional YouTube video for the production:

Tenor Charles Castronovo has impressed live as Alfredo Germont in La traviata (review), Rodolfo Bohème (review) and Edgardo in an absolutely extraordinary Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor (review) - all at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

Charles Castronovo as Almète, with dancers

A while ago, Classical Explorer featured a Gluck Gala that included excerpts from Alceste featuring the great Jessye Norman. Zooming in on that opera seemed a logical step. Antonello Manacorda directs with a real grasp of Gluck's style: he is as sensitive and attentive to his singers as he is to the dramatic direction.

If you know Gluck's Orfeo and are looking for a next step, this the perfect opportunity. The bluray in particular offers a crystal clear picture.