17 Dec 2007

GLUCK: Alceste

Alceste: Tragédie opéra in three acts.

Music composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Libretto by Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc Roullet after Calzabigi.

First Performance (French version): 23 April 1776, Académie Royale de Musique, Paris

Principal Characters:
Alceste [Alcestis] Queen of Thessaly Soprano
Admète [Admetus] her husband Tenor
Their two children Silent
Evandre [Evander] leader of the Pherae people Tenor
A Herald of Arms Bass
High Priest of Apollo Bass
Apollo protector of the house of Admetus Baritone
Hercule [Hercules] Bass
Oracle Bass
Thanatos an infernal deity Bass

Setting: Classical Pherae, Thessaly


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.

Click here for the complete score.

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