jessye-normanFor all those who have enjoyed “Trove Thursday” during its first year, I apologize for its absence the past four months but some health challenges have prevented me from posting. But 2017 happily brings its return with a rare and enthralling live performance of Gluck’s Alceste featuring Jessye Norman in epic form in the title role. 

Once in a while I’ve been able to post performances that I attended and this opening night broadcast of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 1990-91 season was the last time (so far) I’ve been to Lyric. During the 1980s when I still lived in the Midwest, It used to be that single tickets to Lyric were nearly impossible to obtain due to the company’s huge number of subscribers. But Opening Night was always fairly easy to purchase and afforded me the opportunity to attend this grand Alceste as well as one of Cecilia Gasdia’s rare US appearances in La Sonnambula in1988.

Norman’s US opera career took place nearly entirely at the Met; this performance was her Lyric debut and her only role with the company and possibly her only onstage appearances as Gluck’s heroine, an ideal Norman role.

I was never entirely happy with her recording on the Orfeo label but this Chicago outing finds her in superb form, perhaps inspired by working with Robert Wilson who directed and designed the production and with whom she often worked in Europe. I remember hearing that the Wilson Alceste would come to the Met with Norman several years later but that it was dropped in favor of the Elijah Moshinsky Ariadne auf Naxos. Does anyone know if this was indeed the case?

The edition used here is Gluck’s 1776 much-revised French version rather than that of its premiere in Italian in Vienna in 1767. The often uneven Chris Merritt (in good form here) sings Admete, Alceste’s initially self-absorbed husband, and in the small role of Apollon one notes future Wagnerian Gary Lehman—whatever happened to him?

Lovers of this opera should also check out the broadcast recording of the era’s other great Alceste—Dame Janet Baker—conducted by the marvelous Sir Charles Mackerras.

Enjoy. It’s good to be back!

Gluck: Alceste
Lyric Opera of Chicago
24 September 1990

Jessye Norman — Alceste
Chris Merritt — Admete
John Brandstetter — High Priest
Mark S. Doss — Hercule
Michael Wadsworth — Oracle
Gary Lehman — Apollon
Philip Zawisza — Herald
Bruce Fowler — Evandre

Gary Bertini – conductor