Gluck’s “Alceste” Explores Emotions of Life, Death and Twists of Faith

Video by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

The Harvard University Choir and Grand Harmonie presented Christoph Willibald Gluck's (1714-1787) “Alceste” in the sanctuary of Memorial Church on Saturday, October 20.

The opera is the story of a gravely ill king whose wife (Alceste) pledges to give her life to the gods if her husband is spared death. Edward Jones, the Gund University Organist and Choirmaster in the Memorial Church, said the opera is an example of the composer’s exploration into the psyche of the characters through voices of the singers and the orchestra.

“The key thing with Gluck is that he goes for the heart of the emotion of these characters, and he is an incredible psychological composer,” he said. “Gluck does an extraordinary job of getting in the psychology of women characters taken from Athenian tragedies, who are having to make extraordinary decisions about sacrifice. And the orchestra becomes a real protagonist and tells us an underlying story.”

The music department of the Memorial Church presents an opera each fall. Jones said the sanctuary of the Memorial Church is a wonderful venue for the performance.

“I love opera and I love opera choruses. I’ve always chosen to do concert performances of operas with the choir here that church choirs would not normally get to sing. It widens their palette of music,” he said. “Alceste’s chorus is very important and it is one of the main protagonists in the drama.”

The performance also featured the solo voices of tenor Jonas Budris ’06, soprano Hailey Fuqua, bass-baritone Christopher Talbot and baritone Sumner Thompson.