Christine Brewer (Alceste, front) and cast in Alceste, Santa Fe Opera, 2009 (photo by Ken Howard)
Gluck and his librettist, Ranieri de Calzabigi (1714-1795) -- a composer-librettist partnership on par with Mozart-Da Ponte or Strauss-Von Hoffmannsthal -- aimed to undo the anti-dramatic conventions of opera seria, set in place largely by Metastasio. Their reform has its roots in the academic origins of opera, the attempted recreation of ancient Greek tragedy. For that reason Gluck's operas lend themselves well to a sort of ritual staging, shown so effectively in Robert Wilson's gestural production of Orphée et Eurydice. Director Francisco Negrin went in a similar direction, setting his Santa Fe Alceste in a Thessaly of barren stone walls, haunted by masked, demon-like immortals (sets and costumes by Louis Désiré). In front of a temple dominated by the obsessive image of a large, all-seeing eye, the chorus commented on the action, making stylized emotional gestures right out of the Peter Sellars playbook (Mr. Roboto movements by Spanish choreographer Ana Yepes). The choreography was a mixture of classical ballet and the jerky blockiness and male-female inversions reminiscent of Mark Morris.
Tom Corbeil (Oracle, left), Matthew Morris (Apollo, top), and Christine Brewer (Alceste, right) in Alceste, Santa Fe Opera, 2009 (photo by Ken Howard)
|Christine Brewer, Alceste excerpts:|
Alceste was the second of Gluck's reform operas (see this piano-vocal score), premiered in Vienna in 1767 and then adapted in a 1776 French version for Paris, where Gluck followed his former student, Marie-Antoinette, when she married King Louis XVI. This version, with a revised French libretto by Leblanc du Roullet and some major changes to the music, is generally thought to be better and is usually chosen for performance, although it is sometimes translated back into Italian. Santa Fe, quite wisely, chose the French version and kept it in French. In the modern era, Alceste's gorgeous arias have attracted many great sopranos who have used their star power to insist on stagings of the entire opera: Kirsten Flagstad, Maria Callas, Eileen Farrell, Jessye Norman, Catherine Naglestad, and most recently Deborah Voigt, who will probably star in her own staged production soon. Christine Brewer sang the role with vitality, warmth, and shattering power, a resplendent earth mother of opulent potency. It might not be the optimal type of voice for Gluck, but all of the details were there, with more than enough expansive élan on the high notes of Divinités du Styx and a luscious, long-breathed legato in the slower pieces.
Tom Corbeil (The Infernal God) and Paul Groves (Admète) in Alceste, Santa Fe Opera, 2009 (photo by Ken Howard)
George Loomis, Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico (Financial Times, August 10)
Sarah Bryan Miller, Singer Christine Brewer is back from injury — and "rollin' " (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 9)
Scott Cantrell, Santa Fe Opera's 'Alceste' makes a simple story tiresome (Dallas Morning News, August 8)
Photo Journal: Christine Brewer is Alceste in Santa Fe (Playbill Arts, August 7)
Allan Kozinn, Heroines Sing Amid a Landscape of Boxes and an Egg of a Temple (New York Times, August 6)
John Stege, It's the Music (Santa Fe Reporter, August 5)
Lawrence A. Johnson, Fine cast, glitzy production provide mixed rewards in Santa Fe’s “Alceste” (Chicago Classical Review, August 3)
Craig Smith, Lustrous music saves 'Alceste' (Santa Fe New Mexican, August 2)
Santa Fe Opera's production of Alceste will be repeated only three more times, on August 10, 14, and 19.