I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
The production recorded at the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2019 is directed and choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and makes extensive use of the dancers of his Compagnie Eastman of Antwerp. It’s not a bad idea as there is a lot of dance music in the piece (it’s the Paris version basically) and it adds some visual interest to an essentially rather static story. It’s still all a bit slow and monochromatic but it livens up a bit in Act 3 when dancers on stilts with extended arms make rather impressive infernal spirits. He also makes cuts so the whole thing comes in at about 135 minutes. It’s a pretty good effort to liven things up.
This production is also very strongly cast with Dorothea Röschmann in the title role and Charles Castronovo on fine form as her husband Admète. Röscmann seems to be moving into slightly heavier rep these days; Ariadne, Leonore etc. I can see why. She sounds great but she really doesn’t sound like a Mozart soprano anymore though I’m sure she’s got a few more Contessas in her. Castronovo is totally convincing; vocally secure and very easy on the ear. The back up roles are also well done with Michael Nagy as an impressive Grand-Prêtre and a slightly comic Hercule. I also really liked Anna El-Khashem as Coryphée. She has a pleasing, bright soprano, she’s a great mover and she can sing upside down.
The orchestra and chorus are excellent and Antonello Manacorda’s tempi seem well chosen and are often sprightly where things might start to drag. In many ways here the dancers are the real stars with highly varied choreography requiring mastery of a range of styles; all of which are navigated superbly.
Picture and sound quality on Blu-ray are excellent. I thought the DTS-HD surround track was preferable to the stereo option offering a more solid and obviously 3D sound stage. Tiziano Mancini’s videography is appropriate and reflects the stage action well. There are no extras on the disc (bar a few trailers). The booklet has a synopsis, track listing and a short, but useful, explanatory note. Subtitle options are French, English, German, Korean and Japanese.
This disc didn’t turn me into an Alceste fan but I think of the currently available options on video it’s the one to have if one must have one.