Alcestis by Christoph Willibald Gluck

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Alcestis by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Christoph Willibald Gluck (b. 2nd July 1714 in Erasbach, d. 15th November 1787 in Vienna) has become known as one of the great reformers of operatic history. For it was Gluck who took that vital action towards the epitome of ‘music drama’ in his operas. Because of his reforms, Gluck’s operas had a considerable influence throughout the following decades. He was highly thought of by his peers and even by the aristocracy.

Alcestis is a ‘tragedia/tradgedie opera in three acts. The Italian libretto was produced by Ranieri de Calzabigi for Vienna; the French version for Paris by Bailli Le Blanc du Roullet. It premiered in Vienna on the 26th December 1762 at the Kaiserliches Hoftheatre and the French version in Paris at the Academie Royale on the 23rd April 1776. It is set in Thessaly during mythical times.


Admetus, King of Thessaly (Tenor)

Alcestis, his wife (Soprano)

Eumelo and Aspasia, their children (2x Soprano, Silent in French version)

Evander, the confident of Admetus (Tenor)

Ismene (Soprano, Italian version only)

High Priest of Apollo (Tenor)

Hercules (Bass, French version only)

Apollo (Tenor)

Herald (Bass)

Oracle (Bass)

Infernal Deity (Bass)

Courtiers, citizens, ladies-in-waiting for Alcestis, priests of Apollo and gods of the underworld (Chorus and ballet)


Italian Version.

Act I

Scene 1: In the square in front of the palace of King Admetus, the king lays dying. The people are urged to ask the gods to help him.

Scene 2: In the temple of Apollo, the oracle announces that the king may live if someone else would die for him. His wife, Alcestis, offers to sacrifice herself for her husband.

Act II

Scene 1: In a grove dedicated to the gods of the underworld, Alcestis pleads with the gods to accept her in her husband’s place. The gods agree and allow Alcestis to return home in order to say goodbye to her husband and children.

Scene 2: Admetus is fully recovered and learns how. He beseeches the gods not to accept Alcestis sacrifice.


Scene 1: In the forecourt of the palace, Admetus and Alcestis find that her sacrifice cannot be reversed and so the couple say goodbye to each other. Alcestis dies and just when Admetus is prepared to follow her in death, the god Apollo appears, bringing Alcestis with him. The couple are reunited in honour of their faithful love to each other.


Paris Version.

Death and Love are locked in disagreement. King Admetus must die but an oracle states that he may live if someone is prepared to die in his stead. His wife Alcestis is prepared to sacrifice herself but the king cannot live without her and prepares to follow her even in death. Hercules is a guest at the palace and seeing the strength of their love, descends into the Underworld to rescue Alcestis. Love has conquered over Death.


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