(Previous section here.)
But enough of the heavy stuff. This is a really beautiful performance of Gluck’s opera. All of the roles, from the herald (the same performer, Ludovic Tezier, sings the infernal god that Alceste and Admete converse with towards the end) to
Evil Legolas the high priest/Hercules on upward are well worth hearing.
The big draws here, though are Paul Groves as Admete and (of course) Anne Sofie von Otter as Alceste. I’ve only ever heard Groves on DVD, but ever time I do I always have this “wait, who is this guy?” reactions. (If I recall correctly, he was a fantastic Belmonte in an otherwise mildly ill-conceived Entführung from Salzburg in the late 1990s – the one with Schäfer as Konstanze and Hartelius as Blonde and a lot of barbed wire – he makes his first entrance climbing out of a shipping box.) But anyway, he is consistently an utter pleasure to listen to here. I particularly liked “Alceste, aux noms de Dieux!” in Act III, but the whole performance is really pretty great.
As is Anne Sofie von Otter as Alceste. This is music that is written deliberately to avoid giving singers opportunities to show off. There are no fireworks; all it has to be is simple and expressive and beautiful – and of course it is. The way she ends some of the phrases in “Divinites du Styx” (there are two that end with “morte” in particular) is amazing, and it’s great drama even though the stage direction towards the end of it has Alceste standing with her arms stretched out like she just performed a difficult gymnastics vault and stuck the landing. The parts I liked the best were towards the end of the third Act, where Alceste is addressing the gods of Hades, e.g. “Ah, divinites implacables!” The scene earlier on in Act II where Alceste hesitates and then finally confesses to Admete that she has offered her life for his, and he gets mad, is also great.
Finally, just in case anyone was wondering, the children do not get eaten.