Gluck: Alceste

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Alceste
PERFORMER: Catherine Naglestad, Donald Kaasch, Johann Rydh, Bernhard Schneider, Catriona Smith, Johan Rydh, Michael Ebbecke, Nam Soo Kim, Motti Kastón, Michael Ebbecke, Wolfgang Probst; Stuttgart State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Constantinos Carydis; dir. Jossi Wieler
CATALOGUE NO: 101 251 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture ratio)
Gluck’s ‘beautiful simplicity’, and the pity and fear of Greek tragedy, have certainly seen better days. In his famous preface to Alceste, Gluck declared that he was, above all, trying to rid opera of all that was ‘ridiculous and wearisome’. Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, directing this new production of Gluck’s 1776 Paris version of Alceste, have put it all back in again. There’s a warning that all is not well when the Chorus makes its first appearance dutifully conducted on stage by a neurotic choir-mistress – so denying it any authentic empathic response to Alceste’s fate. Whenever Alceste’s anguished cry of ‘Oh, my children!’ goes up, a pair of restless, carroty-haired children with soft toys appear on cue. Worst of all, in this woefully wrong-headed production, the temple is a drab meeting-room in what seems to be a small-town evangelical chapel. And every male, from Admetus to the High Priest and Hercules, seems to be a somewhat dubious evangelist and control freak. With every production detail contributing to a sense of the reductive, it’s no wonder that not a single performance displays conviction. And the close-focus of film only draws unwelcome attention to the pallid singing and the flaccid musical and dramatic pacing. Neither is this production cast from strength. A near-expressionless, house-wifey Catherine Naglestad is the Alceste. She, at least, has the technique to manage Gluck’s line – which is more than can be said for Donald Kaasch’s strained Admète, Motti Kastón’s Apollo or Michael Ebbecke’s Hercules. And why does everyone have bright ginger hair? There are no extras included here, and the menu is almost illegible. Hilary Finch