When the historic Theatre du Chatelet in Paris re-opened after a period of extensive refurbishment, the first two productions mounted in the theatre were Gluck’s Alceste and Orphée et Eurydice.
Both operas were sung in their French versions and were mounted and designed by Robert Wilson and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. This was the first time Wilson and Gardiner had collaborated and their individual credentials combined to produce an exceptional result.
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.
John Eliot Gardiner is one of the leading conductors in the active authentic performances movement in England, performing Baroque music but also extending his range into later repertoire. He first conducted at the age of 15, and after finishing school he studied at King's College, Cambridge. While still an undergraduate, he conducted the combined Oxford and Cambridge Singers on a 1964 tour of the Middle East and founded the Monteverdi Choir, which has consistently performed on his recordings since.
John Eliot Gardiner has proved himself a doughty champion of the later French Baroque, cultivating credible performing methods and unearthing undeservedly neglected repertoire. These nine CDs offer both rich musical rewards and an insight into developing approaches to interpretation. The earliest repertoire in the set is the volume of Francois Couperin's 'apotheoses' of Lully and Corelli, a sensual and programmatic feast in which this charmingly didactic composer attempts to reconcile the best of French and Italian taste.
This is a truly great operetta interpretation. Gardiner's approach is on an altogether more inspired plane than his rivals. In the Viennese rhythms, he shows himself utterly at home – as in the Act 2 Dance scene, where he eases the orchestra irresistibly into the famous waltz. But there are also countless instances where Gardiner provides a deliciously fresh inflexion to the score.