18 May 2006

GLUCK: Alceste

Alceste. Tragedia in three acts (Italian version).

Alceste. Tragédie opéra in three acts (French version).

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Librettist: Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, after Euripides (Italian version)
Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc Roullet, based on Calzabigi (French version)

First Performance:

Italian Version 26 December 1767, Burgtheater, Vienna
French Version 23 April 1776, Académie Royale de Musique, Paris

Principal Characters:

Italian version
Alceste, Queen of Pherae in Thessaly Soprano
Admeto, her husband Tenor
Eumelo, their child Soprano
Aspasia, their child Soprano
Evandro, a confidant of Admeto Tenor
Ismene, a confidante of Alceste Soprano
A Herald Bass
High Priest of Apollo Baritone
Apollo Baritone
Oracle Bass
Infernal Deity Bass
French version
Alceste, Queen of Thessaly Soprano
Admète, her husband Tenor
Their two children Silent
Evandre, a confidant of Admeto Tenor
Ismene, a confidante of Alceste Soprano
A Herald of Arms Bass
High Priest of Apollo Bass
Apollo Baritone
Oracle Bass
Hercules Bass
Thanatos, an infernal deity Bass

Time and Place: Pherae in ancient Thessaly

Synopsis (Italian version):

Act I

A herald announces to the people of Thessaly that King Admeto is gravely ill and that there is little hope. Evandro calls upon all to pray to the oracle at the temple of Apollo. Alceste joins them and asks Apollo for pity. The oracle says Admeto can be rescued if another voluntarily sacrifices his life. This causes great consternation. Alone, Alceste agonizes whether to give her life for that of her husband.

Act II

In a dense forest dedicated to the gods of the underworld, Ismene asks Alceste why she is leaving her husband and children. Alceste tells Ismene of her intentions. Meanwhile, Admeto has a miraculous recovery to the joy of all Thessaly. Evandro tells him that someone has apparently sacrificed himself for the king. When Alceste appears, he questions her until she confesses. The desperate king hurries into the temple to plead with the gods. However, Alceste says good-bye to the children.


The decision of the gods is not revoked. The people lament the approaching death of Alceste. Having said good-bye to Alceste, Admeto decides to follow her into death. Then the heavens open, Apollo descends and proclaims that the gods have given them their lives as a reward for their steadfast love.

Click here for the complete libretto (Italian version).

Click here for a view of La Mort d'Alceste ou L'Héroïsme de l'amour conjugal by Pierre Peyron, 1785 (Musée du Louvre)