Iphigénie en Tauride is, as I said, probably the greatest of Gluck’s dramas. There is certainly nothing in his œuvre to match the astonishing opening sequence, moving from minuet (Le calme) to tempest, plunging us into the action as surely as Wagner in Die Walküre. Muti’s incandescent reading, this time from La Scala, has no peers. Carol Vaness, Gösta Winbergh, and Thomas Allen are amongst the excellent cast.
Alceste is, of course, the work to which Gluck’s (actually his librettist, Calzabigi’s) celebrated Preface, one of the most important documents in the history of opera, was penned. The French and Italian versions are so different as pretty much to constitute separate works. In French, Janet Baker’s Covent Garden farewell, under the baton of Charles Mackerras, demands to be heard. So too, however, does Jessye Norman’s towering account of the title role, with excellent – in truth, far richer-toned – Munich forces under Serge Baudo. Siegmund Nimsgern, Nicolai Gedda, and Kurt Rydl are amongst the other cast members. For the rare Italian version, a great soprano of an earlier generation calls to us: no less than Kirsten Flagstad, conducted by Geraint Jones.