Robert Wilson's production of Gluck's 1776 French version of Alceste is striking with theatrical symbols. The intriguing visual arena is complemented by the fact that the piece is conducted for the first time with a period... more » instrument ensemble, the English Baroque Soloists. The excellent Monteverdi Choir provides the chorus, with dancers taking their place on stage. Together, they give a magnificently persuasive expression to the horror and compassion demanded by Christoph Willibald Gluck's most elevated and sublime works. 133 minutes.« less
Mark A. Whitenack | Minneapolis, MN United States | 04/08/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gluck's Alceste was given a wonderful and moving performance by Gardner and company on this new DVD! The music is beautifully expressive, the singing by all the cast was suberb, esp. Annie Sofie Von Otter in the title role. the English Baroque period ensemble under J.E. Gardner was fabulous, as usual. The sets are quite beautiful and very well designed...but there isn't a lot of physical action, which could be troubling to modern audiences used constant action in movies, etc. I was impressed by the choreographers effective use of Kabuki (traditional Japanese opera)for the inspiration behind the stylized hand gestures. I am an 18th century opera fanatic and would like to see more staged productions of composers operatic works such as Gluck, Jomelli, Sacchini,Rameau and other composers that have unjustly slipped between the cracks of music history. From a technical perspective,both the audio and video quality are excellent. Bravo to everyone involved in the performance and production!"
Willibald Gets the Blues
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 05/19/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"When is a CD more visually exciting than a DVD? That's not a joke; the answer is this Chatelet production of Gluck's Alceste. I've watched glaciers - literally - for hours, and seen more action than this.Was Brian Large, the director, momentarily suffering a post-encephalitic syndrome such as Oliver Sachs reported in Awakenings? LSD could not make this staging meaningful. This Alceste makes Wagner's Rheingold seem like a Rossini romp. It turns "Remenbrance of Things Past" into a haiku. It makes the American election process seem cogent.
What do you get when you pop this disk into your player? Blue. Faded Levi blue. A blue backdrop with hazy blue stage lights, sectioned by various blackish pillars and cubes. A small blue cube gyrates slowly overhead throughout the first act. A dozen female dancers in off-the-shoulder blue prom dresses, with blue Egyptian head-gear, glide stiffly fore and aft, their arms bent hieroglyphically. Eventually Alceste enters, sheathed in a simple red robe which, if you watch long enough, begins to seem blue also. Lo, the blue backdrop is declared to be a temple. There is a large gray-blue statue with impressive genitalia. A priest begins to sing sad blue phrases of omen. Blue moons later, Admetus emerges from the indigo shadows, saved from death by Alceste's sacrifice of her life, an act which makes him feel.... blue.
Oy! I've seen screen savers with infinitely more variety. Handel's Admeto, by the by, written in the same geological moment, handles the same story, but Handel had a handle on the human attention span.
As if the visuals weren't lifeless enough, the voice recording is dismally unlifelike. No matter how high I turned the volume or diddled the EQ, the singers sounded distant and pallid, as if I were sitting in the highest balcony of an opera house stuffed with baffles.
It's a colossal shame, really. The music, though somber and monochromatic until the very end, has its dolorous charms, especially as conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and performed by the English Baroque Soloists on period instruments. The miking of the orchestra, by the way, was quite intimate, as if that mattered when the singers were so stifled.
Please, don't make this your first pre-Mozart opera DVD! If you want a symbolist/minimalist staging of a Greek tragedy played on early instruments, get the DVD of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, as performed by Tragicomedia nd Concerto Palatino. How subtle the difference that separates a great production from a dud! *********** WAIT! HOLD THE PHONE! Months later, I've watched/heard this production again. I was totally unfair! I must have had a bad no-hair day! I'd delete this review, except for an urge toward penitent self-flagellation. See the thread of comments below for my apologies. There are certainly shortcomings in the sound recording, but the musical interpretation is superb, and the staging (except for that blue cube) makes a good deal of sense on second viewing."
How do you spell somber?
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 03/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The old Met had six composers displayed above the proscenium - Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner, and Gounod. How different would the list be were it done today? Gluck is hardly a favorite or popular. He is more admired as a reformer than loved as a composer. And coming to him I have always considered a task - someone I SHOULD listen to and admire. I have long hoped to finally hear Alceste. Previous recordings have been severely handicapped in one way or another. And now here it is in the French version and in video. The musical performance is wonderful. How could it be other with Gardiner in charge? Robert Wilson is always something of a chore. I don't like him generally but I must confess that he is a good choice for a static work like Alceste. He reminds us always of the Greek roots to which Gluck wished to return. There is a marvellous hierarchic quality to this production that matches the drama and the music. Reading some authors on this work it is generally agreed to be the most somber and funereal of all operas. And Wilson's staging matches that solemnity. In all it is good to have this even though I still more admire than like it."
Michael Anthony Brenton | The Other Side of the Known Universe | 10/14/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK's sublime work is presented in a most interesting way by stage director Robert Wilson! On the one hand, "Alceste" is performed by a period instrument ensemble, the ENGLISH BAROQUE SOLOISTS, joined by the singers and dancers of the MONTVERDI CHOIR, directed by Sir John Elliot Gardiner. On the other hand, Wilson uses striking theatrical symbolism with decidedly modern overtones! Certainly worth checking out, as the singing alone is great!"
Armida | Mombasa, Kenya | 01/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I will not write about the music or the quality of the singing; both are sublime, as even those reviewers concede, who disagreed with the staging.
As in Orfeo/Orphee, there is not a lot of action in the story. Admete's life hangs by a thread - we do not learn why or how he attracted the gods' wrath. For Admete to live, someone has to die - a bleak outlook on divine justice. Alceste vows to sacrifice herself. The couple bemoan their fate, vow to sacrifice themselves rather than see the other die, quarrel over whose destiny it is to die. Just in the nick of time, Hercule appears to banish the forces of the underworld - and, just as irrationaly, the couple undergoes apotheosis... in short, there is little to act.
The staging here reminds me of those dreams in which you want to move but can't. The protagonists are caught in a web of forces, which they cannot control. And so the stage is awash in otherwordly blue, the characters move like marionettes, but still retain their dignity. This is dream space, mythical space - and I found it utterly captivating and emotionally intense. To have presented this work other than it was - austere, stark and highly stylised - would have resulted in cheap and gaudy melodram."