In this production you hear a lot of the chorus, and the choral singing, by the Monteverdi Choir, is always exciting and expressive – this is evident immediately, in the very first scene, where a herald addresses the people and tells them that Admete is dying and they react with lamentations. But you don’t see the chorus. What you see instead are dancers.
The visual impression given by the dancing and stage direction is elegant, highly stylized and impersonal, in a completely appropriate way. When I was watching the scene later on in which the people are happy that Admete has suddenly recovered (“Parez vos fronts de fleurs nouvelles” – it’s a chorus number with a very light, pretty pizzicato part in the orchestra) what I kept thinking was that there was something on on here in terms of scale that was working brilliantly. The orchestral music isn’t huge or thunderous, and the stage direction gives a feel of restraint, in a good way – it’s hard to articulate, but it works. There is just the right amount of everything.
In addition to the chorus/dancers and the main characters there are several silent parts. Two of them are Alceste and Admete’s children (when they come scampering in in their little gauzy smocks, my first thought was – I hope they don’t get eaten. Clearly I have seen a certain production of Clemenza too many times) and the other is listed on the DVD box as “Alceste’s alter ego.” This is giving the game away, telling us that, isn’t it? Anyway, this figure first appears, walking backward, slowly, during the overture. It mirrors the scene later on when everyone is singing about how Alceste is going to die, and Alceste is walking, slowly, forwards, off the stage in the other direction. The “alter ego” reappears over and over again, walking through the action like a ghost. She does not interact with the other characters. (You can see her in the front stage left in the above clip of “O malhereux Admete” and in the overture.)
I was thinking about what impression this extra character produces. There is something quietly solitary and inward-looking about this figure. But she never hesitates. We first see her juxtaposed with that huge statue of Apollo. This is a figure whose existence and whose actions are completely the same thing. (Sort of like the way character seems to work in Greek literature. You are not an individual separate from and juxtaposed with the world, as in Romantic literature, but rather what a person is/does is the combination of fate, temperament and the will of the gods.) It’s an interesting contrast with the “real” Alceste, who hesitates whether to tell her husband that she has given up her life for him, or who expresses fear as she reaches the gates of Hades. Perhaps there is something both inside and outside of Alceste (her “alter ego” is visible) that gives her actions a weight and meaning and inevitability that are beyond her immediate awareness or control.
(Next section here.)