The plot: Admetus, King of Thessaly, is dying. He can only stay alive if someone else offers to die in his place. His wife Alceste therefore sacrifices herself for him. When Admetus hears of this, he wants to join Alceste in the underworld. In defiance of the gods, Hercules intervenes to save the two lovers from Hades.
With Alceste, Christoph Willibald Gluck succeeded in transforming opera. While the initial Italian version revisited the opera seria, the second version, created in French in Paris in 1776, is pure lyrical tragedy. Keen to create a genuine musical theatre, Gluck turned his back on the affectation of the baroque, with its prima donnas and divas showcasing their vocal prowess. He wanted the music to reflect the libretto’s story and poetry rather than be an end in itself. He was the originator of the music of the Classical period and a role model for Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Richard Strauss.
This new version of Alceste at the Bavarian State Opera is directed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The Flemish director and choreographer sees Alceste as a wandering soul, but above all a victim of conflicting, ever-changing feelings. Cherkaoui seeks to express this emotional universe through dance, aided by his Antwerp-based Eastman dance company.
The orchestra and choir of the Bavarian State Opera are conducted by Antonello Manacorda. Grammy-winning Dorothea Röschmann sings the title role and baritone Michael Nagy plays Hercules. Admetus is performed by Charles Castronovo, who was voted Male Singer of the Year at the International Opera Awards in May 2019.
Photo © Wilfried Hösl