Rebelling against the increasingly formulaic operas of the time, Christoph Willibald Gluck's "reformist" opera Alceste (1767) was a successful attempt to return to a purer form of musical drama. It is highly appropriate that this 1999 production of the revised 1776 Paris version should be conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, the same forces responsible for many fine Bach performances equally emphasizing character and text. In setting the tragic story of the profound love between Queen Alceste and her husband King Admète, Gluck provided a score of austere, rending beauty… By –Gary S. Dalkin
Thus spake Shaw, writing about Gluck towards the end of the 19th century. Shaw went on to allege that the musical culture of his time had not fully caught up with this great master and reformer of opera, and the very thoughtful and instructive essay that Gardiner contributes here suggests to me that there may still, in the third millennium, be a little catching up to do. Whatever one thinks of Gluck, either as a composer or as a musical dramatist or as an operatic rationalist and reformer, it seems to me that he was very clear-headed in one basic respect - he knew the difference between musical drama and musical tableau. Classical drama has an inherent tendency towards tableau, with its statues, white-robed women, prophets, deities and heroes…
Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler already enjoyed a worldwide legendary standing during his lifetime he was considered the German conductor and performances were greeted with rapturous applause. Today, more than 50 years after his death, Wilhelm Furtwängler is still an icon and his work has become an integral part of the music scene.
Gluck‘s wonderful but neglected 1774 opera Iphigénie en Tauride, inspired by the Greek legend, is treated with forceful and convincing simplicity in Klaus Guth‘s revolutionary production staged at the Zurich Opera House. The psychological drama in a tense atmosphere of fears and traumas is underlined by Guth‘s use of huge masks and enclosed spaces. Conductor William Christie and his typically transparent but never cold orchestral sound perfectly match the descriptive elements in Gluck’s score, while the Armenian mezzosoprano Juliette Galstian as a fabulously good Iphigénie, the leading American opera baritone Rodney Gilfry as Oreste and the deceased South African tenor Deon van der Walt as Pylade head a superb cast.
"Die Sängerinnen und Sänger haben allesamt sehr intensiv an den Koloraturen gearbeitet und sind den teils horrenden Schwierigkeiten der Arien gut gewachsen … Außerdem sind die Rezitative mit hohem Konversationstempo und fantasievoller Generalbass-Improvisation umgesetzt." ~FonoForum