Alceste Libretto
English Translation

Overture

Act I

 
Scene 1
The grand square in the city of Pherae, bounded by the Royal Palace with its great door and balcony above.
As the curtain rises the whole square is seen crowded with People variously disposed. They all bear in their hands olive branches decked with ribbons, symbols of supplication and show signs of great affliction. To the right is an altar on which incense is burning, to the left Evander, Ismene and some of the leading citizens. On the balcony of the Royal Palace, preceded by a sudden trumpet fanfare, a Herald appears.
 
Herald (appearing on the balcony)
People who grieve
at the fate of Admetus,
mourning in him more the father
than the ruler, hear these words:
His last day is at hand,
there is no help, no hope;
shepherds in their hovels,
and the kings on their thrones
are equally
the prey of inexorable death.
 
People
Ah, just gods,
what will become of this sad realm?
 
Ismene, Evander
Just gods, what will happen?
Ah, for us heaven’s anger
has no worse thunderbolt.
No! No! No worse thunderbolt.
 
People
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
Ismene
Ill-fated palace
that immersed in wailing
will resound with plaintive voices!
Unhappy country that a host
of foreign arms will surround!
Unhappy country, ill-fated palace!
 
People
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
(Mime expressing desolation and grief)
 
Evander
Loving vassals, today our king receives
a just reward for his great virtues
in the common grief
but vain is this weeping for him;
to the prayers, to vows
the Gods are not propitious.
Let us go to the temples
to offer victims and gifts;
let us consult The Oracle at least,
at least to know whether in such grave danger
there is any mercy for us, or council.
 
People, Ismene, Evander
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
Evander
Why does fawning happiness smile
serenely on tyrants,
and the just groan in the chains
of unmitigated adversity?
Why? Why?
 
People, Ismene, Evander
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
 
Evander
Be silent:
ah, the palace doors open.
Oh God! My heart trembles:
my thoughts conjure up
a thousand images of woe.
Come, let us go with compassion
to console the grieving queen,
but no, wait, overwhelmed by her grief
with her sorrowful children
she herself approaches.
 
 
Scene 2
 
People
Wretched Admetus! Poor Alcestis!
Painful images, sad symbols
of sorrow, of tears and of pity.
Who amid the embraces,
who amid the laments
of little children, innocent children
will console the suffering mother?
 
Alcestis (comes out of the palace, holding by the hand her two children, Eumelus and Aspasia)
People of Thessaly,
ah never more justified was your weeping;
to you no less than to these
innocent children is Admetus father.
I lose a dear husband and you your beloved king.
Our only hope, our love
this cruel fate takes from us,
and in so grave a disaster I do not know
which to feel sorry for first,
the realm, myself or my children.
It rests only for us the pity of the gods
to implore, to obtain.
I shall accompany you in your prayers,
to your sacrifices before the altar
a wretched mother, two unhappy children,
I shall thus show you a whole People weeping.
Perhaps at this terrible sight,
in which a grieving kingdom its feelings
and its vows declares,
at last the wrath of heaven will be placated.
 
I do not ask, eternal gods,
that all heaven should be serene for me.
But at least let some ray of pity
comfort my suffering.
No-one understands my ills,
nor the terror that fills my breast,
who does not have the love of a wife,
the heart of a mother.
 
Eumelus
Mother, do not torment yourself so.
Mother, you taught me, you remember…
 
Aspasia
Fair mother, you told me,
you remember…
 
Eumelus, Aspasia
…that the gods are just,
that they are merciful.
 
Alcestis
Dear children, my beloved husband’s
very likenesses,
ah, run to my sweet embraces,
ah, press yourselves to my bosom!
Cold is my blood in every vein,
When I think of you, oh beloved children!
Ah, more unfortunate than me
may fate at least not make you.
No-one understands my woes, etc.
 
People
Wretched children! Poor Alcestis!
Painful images, sad symbols, etc.
Who? Who will console the sad mother?
 
Alcestis
Let not the time pass,
my loyal People, in sorrowing.
Together the mercy of the Gods
Let us hasten to implore.
Already, at my signal, the sacred rite
is being prepared; I myself will give you
the example of humility, of reverence.
 
People, Ismene, Evander
To the temple! To the temple!
Ah, to this sad realm, etc.
Ah, for us heaven’s anger, etc.
 
 
Scene 3
The temple of Apollo, with an altar and statue of the god. The High Priest, priests and priestesses stand around the altar. The People crowd into the temple.
 
High Priest
Disperse the black whirlwind
that roars around the throne.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind
that roars around the throne.
 
High Priest
Oh make it vanish, Apollo,
with your bright splendour.
 
Chorus
You know that as a wandering exile
Admetus once welcomed you…
 
High Priest
…that by the banks of the Amphrysus
you were his shepherd.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind
with your bright splendour.
 
High Priest (approaching the altar)
To you, God of Day,
to you, Heaven’s ornament and splendour,
these victims we sacrifice
to you the sacred flame consumes the scent of Araby.
With his black wings grim death
encumbers our love, our king.
Shine a ray for him,
bring serenity to Thessaly, unhappy in its weeping,
and hear the vows of a loving People.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind
that roars around the throne.
Oh make it vanish, Apollo,
with your bright splendour.
 
High Priest
Cease, ministers,
the sacrifice and prayers;
to the temple the queen comes:
at the mournful devout ceremony
she would be present.
 
 
Scene 4
(The Queen’s followers enter with gifts for the God, and the People with the priests stand to right and to left)
 
Alcestis (at the altar)
God, eternal, immortal,
if with your regard
that discovers the secrets of our thoughts
you have in me found a pure heart,
chaste desires, innocence and piety:
if I have acknowledged that all my fate depended on you,
and if your worship and this your image
was ever neglected by me,
accept in kindness my offerings, my prayers.
 
Chorus
Disperse the black whirlwind, etc.
Oh make it vanish, etc.
 
High Priest
Your prayers, O Queen, your gifts
more propitiously than usual Apollo accepts.
By a hundred express signs
I am sure that he is present.
Lo, inspired by his sacred fury
I speak words that surpass the mortal.
Lo, celestial odours are spread,
about the image
burns a circle of light.
Ah, now these vaults and these walls
are filled with the mind of the God,
his decrees he himself will utter.
The altar sways,
the tripod shakes,
the ground trembles,
the temple resounds!
Oh People, in reverence, in fear
be silent, hear, and lay aside, Alcestis,
the pride of the crown;
bow to the ground your head,
listen and tremble.
 
The Oracle (through the mouth of the statue)
The king will die,
unless another dies for him.
 
Chorus
What a fateful decree
of new terror!
Let us fly, let us fly
from this place of horror.
 
(They all flee from the temple. Alcestis remains alone, with her children.)
 
 
Scene 5
 
Alcestis
Where am I, what did I hear?
What clear, fatal oracle
the God pronounced!
What a proud moment this is for me!
How many different feelings
rise in my heart!
Reverence, love, wonder,
fear, weakness and virtue:
all in turn crowd together in my bosom.
I am so lost in unaccustomed turmoil,
and new, that I seek myself within me
and do not find myself.
This then is the help
that I awaited from Heaven!
My husband will die,
if another does not die for him!…
To whom to suggest it!…
From whom to hope for it!…
To what cruel decree
each has left me.
Of my faithful followers I see none…
To all, life is dear…
The best gift this is
that the Gods can make…
Wretched Admetus! Unhappy prince!
Where to find one who is willing,
in order to prolong your days,
to let himself and his life pass into oblivion?
Is there any that loves you so much?
Ah! I do!
Now all shining in my mind
appears the great idea.
Now with sublime ardour my heart is filled.
Who so of me, of my will
makes himself master? Ah!
I recognise the God,
the God moves within me.
He inspires me to glorious sacrifice.
His will is that Alcestis
provide today a generous example
for faithful wives in future days.
 
Shades, ghosts, companions of death,
I do not ask of you, I do not want mercy.
If I take away from you a beloved husband,
I abandon to you a faithful wife;
I do not complain of this my lot,
this exchange I do not call cruel.
Shades, ghosts, companions of death,
let not such just piety offend you.
An unknown force that I feel in my breast
gives me courage, spurs me on to the test,
makes me greater than myself.
 
 
Scene 6
(Alcestis is in the act of parting withEumelus and Aspasia; then Evander rushes in, followed by Ismene from another side.)
 
Evander
Ah, hurry, O Queen,
in a short time Admetus will live no more:
the horror of death already rushes to his face.
At least let him see again his dear wife.
 
 
 
Ismene
Alcestis, ah hurry, ah do not delay!
He asks for you, the king calls for you.
He feels death near and with him
does not see his wife,
finds not his children;
always on his lips he has your name
and looks around with heavy
and languishing eyes, seeking you.
 
Alcestis
Now the great act shall be accomplished!
 
Evander
From the gods, ah well you know!,
there is no more to hope.
Come and embrace your unhappy husband
but once more.
Let him go to the tomb at least happy
with that sweet comfort.
What more is there for him in this
his mortal agony?
 
Alcestis (with majestic determination)
He has Alcestis.
(She hurries away with her children.)
 
 
Scene 7
(Evander, Ismene and then, in ones and twos, the ministers of the temple, priests, citizens, men and women, from various sides, some questioning the aforementioned, who, in the act of parting seemed about to follow Alcestis, but now remain on the stage.)
 
Two Citizens
And did no-one offer himself?
…And still none comes forward?
 
Ismene
This hope is vain.
 
Evander
Everyone loves himself…
 
Ismene
…loves life.
Other Voices
And can we leave…
…our old parents…
…and our children…
…and our relations…
…and our spouses…
…the things we love…
…so loving…
…so tender…
 
All
…to abandon them in grief,
to leave them weeping?
 
Voices
I do not have the heart…
…I do not have the courage.
I tremble in thinking of it.
Oh such a woeful day!
And the queen?
And Alcestis?
 
Ismene
She hurries to her husband…
 
Evander
She has gone. Ah she does not resist
her wretched grief.
 
Ismene
…and for her too there remains
only to tremble.
 
Voices
Oh Alcestis!
Oh Admetus!
Just king!
Gentle father!
Ah do not complain
of a faithful People…
…do not accuse them of feigned love…
…of false loyalty.
 
 
 
 
All
Too much does heaven demand,
too much is asked, too much is asked of us.
 
He who serves and he who rules
is born to suffering;
the throne is not
the height of happiness.
There is weeping,
cares, feelings,
anxieties, suspicions –
tyrants of kings.
(They all leave in various directions.)

 

Act II

 
Scene 1
A dense, dark wood, sacred to the Gods of the Underworld. Night. Alcestis enters with Ismene.
 
Ismene
Stop. Why do you leave
your dying husband,
your children weeping, the realm in grief?
In these lonely retreats of greedy beasts,
how dare you set foot?
With what purpose?
Through what vain hope?
Do you so want to give way,
a prey to grief?
 
Alcestis
Be silent and go.
 
Ismene
But where will you go? Already silent night
spreads its shadows.
We do not know these woods:
an ancient cult makes them sacred,
everyone fears to enter.
Ah! What if, while you ill-advisedly
go wandering here, leaving your husband
death should take him
without you, without your help?
 
Alcestis
Do you not go?
 
Ismene
I shall obey.
 
Alcestis
Leave me alone.
 
Ismene
I go, but hear! hear, O God!
What ever will become of you!
Alcestis, ah, for pity,
speak, answer, speak!
My heart makes me tremble
at what you cannot hide,
but makes me tremble the more
at what you hide from me.
 
Alcestis
Do you not go?
 
Ismene
I go, O God!
My heart makes me tremble, etc.
(Leaves.)
 
 
Scene 2
 
Alcestis
She has gone, I am alone,
Tender feelings,
noble thoughts,
lo, you are free.
But where am I,
in what place am I wandering,
where rashly proceeding?
Ah, what fear these trees breathe!
In what deep dark night
I see myself immersed!
A still, deep silence envelops
the gloomy wood, where I hear
no wind whispering,
no shaken leaf tremble,
no echo cry.
Only these mute horrors
are interrupted at times by the mournful sound
of water that against the rocks
crashes and breaks,
or of the night bird with its hoarse cry.
And amid such terrors
I live, unhappy.
Ah, while there keeps me alive
the love that lives in me,
let the glorious trial come quickly.
Help me, O gods,
now is the moment.
You tyrant of the shades,
you lord of the abyss,
and you of Lethe and you of Phlegethon,
implacable gods that hold sway
in those sad cloisters unknown to the sun,
I call to you, I speak to you.
 
Gods of the Underworld
What do you ask, Alcestis?
 
Alcestis
Who speaks to me? What do I answer?
(There appear in the depth of thegrove several shining ghostly figures.)
Ah, what do I see? Ah, what terror!
Where can I fly, where hide,
I burn, I freeze, and I feel my heart
oppressed in my bosom, fainting,
beating slowly.
I have no voice, I have no tears,
I faint, I die, and in such pain
I  have barely enough strength
to grieve and tremble.
 
Gods of the Underworld
And will you die, O wretched woman,
when youth’s
flower adorns you?
And you allow yourself to be oppressed too much
in hard slavery through blind love.
 
 
 
 
 
Alcestis
Stars!…Who wakes me from that strong lethargy,
in which weakness and fear held me!…
How I find again my first desire!
How different am I from myself!…
O either death the nearer it draws
becomes less horrible;
or dismay in the cruel encounter is less
for one who chooses to lose life;
to my soul are not now so terrible
or so fearful those shades,
those ghosts and those voices.
 
Gods of the Underworld
You can take nothing more
from this courage of yours than empty honour.
Think, O incautious young woman,
he who dies,
never rises again.
 
Alcestis
I know, Gods, I know,
but perhaps my beloved breathes his last,
perhaps from his lips
with his last sighs
my name is heard.
Ah no, save him, let my beloved Admetus live,
and Alcestis carry out the decrees of heaven,
illustrious victim of love and fidelity.
Gods of Avernus, hear
my prayer, great and sacred.
To you, for my husband,
I consecrate myself.
 
Gods of the Underworld
Then come, death receives you,
and shows you the path of Lethe.
The ancient, ancient ferryman
already calls you, cries to you,
hurries you, hurries you,
from the bank.
Come, the ancient, ancient ferryman
cries to you, hurries you,
from the bank.
 
 
Alcestis
Hear me, stop! Ah, too quickly,
Gods, you answer my prayers!
My fate is worthy of pity.
Suffer at least that a wife
and mother receive embrace,
take her last leave
from her husband and her children.
 
Gods of the Underworld
Let it be granted you.
 
Alcestis
Do not be perturbed, no,
merciful gods,
if I leave you
for some moments.
Even without the strength
of my vows,
I shall die of love
and of happiness.
 
(Mime of the Gods of the Underworld)
 
 
Scene 3
(A room in the palace. Courtiers celebrate the unexpected recovery of Admetus.)
 
Courtiers
From the happy place, sad thoughts,
away, fly, fly, away.
May smiling pleasures
return and surround the throne.
 
(Ballet)
 
Evander
Now that death his fury
has taken elsewhere and mourning and weeping,
and the stars are fairer
and for us more happily revolve:
you that have love as a friend,
loving brides, ardent lovers,
garland yourselves
with scented fresh roses and rejoice.
(Ballet)
 
Courtiers
From the happy place, sad thoughts, etc.
 
 
Scene 4
 
Evander
Lord, never more sincere was
the loyal People’s rejoicing.
How the fear of losing you afflicted them!
They love you as father, respect you as ruler:
in you rests their happiness.
No, the People’s delight is not too great,
when from such sad bouts of weeping
and of grief,
pitying our prayers,
heaven restores you.
 
Admetus
From what lethargy, Evander,
I now awake;
and what portent steals me from the tomb!
Still encumbered by images of death
my mind wanders; to other things
my astonished thoughts dare not turn;
suspended still in awful doubt,
I know not if I dream or if I wake.
 
Evander
Ah, live, my king. Happy days
fate promises you.
Entertain more cheerful ideas in your soul;
think of rejoicing. From our love
is granted the life that returns to you;
our weeping has won it from heaven;
one of your dear ones has fulfilled the oracle.
 
Admetus
How! What do I hear?
What did the God say?
 
Evander
The king will die unless another
dies for him.
 
Admetus
Barbarous decree! And you believe…
 
Evander
Yes! You are revived and in a moment.
This is not by chance,
nor by human help;
it is the work of heaven.
There was one, lord,
who offered to die for you;
it is vain to doubt it.
 
Admetus
O too unjust, O strange
wish of the gods!
O famous sacrifice
of a faithful friend!
Evander, he who thus
makes a gift of life,
deserves it more than any other.
And to whom do I owe so much?
 
Evander
It is not clear.
 
Admetus
And Alcestis? And my wife?
Where is she? What is she doing?
Why does she not come to rejoice with me
at this unexpected happiness.
 
Evander
Here is Alcestis.
 
 
Scene 5
(Alcestis, Ismene, and the attendants of Alcestis join them.)
 
Admetus
Adored wife, and yet again
I see you, I am with you, am yours,
I clasp you to my bosom.
Death was painful to me for the love of you;
my beloved Alcestis
I love life so much.
Our dear children may heaven keep,
I only desire
in our sweet bonds
to pass my days, and then
to die in your arms.
 
Alcestis
(Wretched that I am! What shall I say?)
 
Admetus
You do not answer me!
So sadly you greet me!
Every fear for me has gone,
calm your brow, it is time to rejoice.
New portents your presence
brings me. The light of your
loving eyes wakes in my bosom
a sweet ardour that brings me new life.
It is a gift of the gods on high, if this
fragile mortal body still remains for me,
but pleasure in life
is the gift of Alcestis.
 
Alcestis
(O what a moment! O sorrow!)
 
Admetus
Wife! My beloved!
But why do you not embrace me?
But why do you not speak to me?
Ah, what secret sorrow do you hide from me!
How cruel for me is that silence!…
And your frequent turning pale,
your sighing, your looks fixed on heaven,
and then turning to me,
as if you would speak!
What tears run down your face,
that your weary eyes
cannot hold back,
is it love, or is it fear?
 
Ah, why with those tears
do you poison my happiness?
Why? Why?
So I enjoy only a moment
and then always must suffer.
My idol!
 
Alcestis
I feel faint.
 
Admetus
You do not answer.
 
Alcestis
Ah, what torment!
 
Admetus
One look…
 
Alcestis
And without weeping!
 
Admetus
An embrace…
 
Alcestis
O God, the last!
 
Admetus
Ah, listen to me…
 
Alcestis
I freeze, I tremble.
 
Admetus
Only speak…
 
Alcestis
What can I say!
 
Admetus
Your torment is my pain,
you are my hope and my treasure.
 
Alcestis
(A thousand times I seem to die,
before I come to die.)
 
Admetus
Wife! Alcestis! And why is not
your whole heart open to me?
Why am I not now a part
of your happiness, of your sufferings?
 
Alcestis
Ah, do not so afflict your faithful wife!
You live! And in the world there is none
that rejoices more,
and has a better lot than mine.
 
Admetus
But why then are you so troubled?
 
Alcestis
O God! Do not seek to know.
 
Admetus
Does heaven threaten other dangers?
Ah, save Alcestis for me and then let all
its anger be vented on me!
Do you love me?
 
Alcestis
Do I love you?
The gods know it, my heart knows it.
I adore you, I shall adore you.
The tomb will not be able to quench
my unassuming love. My soul
will bear this tender love
to fortunate Elysium.
For your life I would give a thousand lives.
 
Admetus
And our dear children?
 
Alcestis
Do not worry, the children are safe.
 
Admetus
Then how can you fear that fate
which smiles happily on us may change?
I live: you are mine: the children are safe,
and you weep.
 
Alcestis
But you do not know?
But is it unknown to you
what Apollo said?
 
Admetus
I know; I understand you;
there is one who dies for me.
Hear, I understand
the generous vow’s
sublime courage.
Your husband
has learned the price of life;
so great a gift surpasses every thanks!
But if this hero is known to you,
this friend,
this benefactor, reveal it to me:
I swear that for ever on these shores
his name shall live; that to his wife,
to his parents, his children,
I shall always be father, son and husband;
that after you, my life, they will have
the best thoughts of my heart. Speak.
 
Alcestis
O gods!
 
Admetus
You weep?
 
Alcestis
Ah husband!
 
Admetus
Well?
 
Alcestis
It is I.
 
Ismene, Evander
Sacred gods of heaven!
 
Admetus
You, how! Alcestis! You yourself!
O dreadful blow! O black day!
Oh! wretched mistake of an unseeing mind!
You love me and love not yourself,
and purpose to die, to leave me,
to deprive me of yourself.
What have you done?
When ever did I ask you
 
for this proof of love!
When? Answer, speak,
rend my heart!
But where, O God, beyond my sorrow
do my desperate thoughts lead me?
No, human madness cannot so
serve Heaven.
You are mine;
you cannot dispose of yourself,
if I will not agree; your first sacred duty
as wife, as mother, binds you to me;
but when to that cruel vow
the tyranny of frantic love
has driven you,
I shall not live; vain is the gift;
I do not accept it.
 
Alcestis
Husband, there is no more time.
My vows are written in heaven.
Your present state makes it clear,
and never more clearly spoke the god.
 
Admetus
No; always obscurely and always
mysteriously he answers,
I will go up the temple to question again
the deceiving oracle.
The earth shall know my refusal.
I will that it may know, understand
that the gods have no care for innocence
and virtue; that they jest
with unhappy mortals.
In this state I have no more regard
for reason. I lose my fear.
By such dreadful blows
and in so short a time overwhelmed
I hate heaven, I hate the world,
I hate myself.
 
No, cruel one, I  cannot live,
you know it, without you.
You do not save me, but kill me
if so you take from me
the most living, most tender
dear part of my heart.
 
 
 
 
 
And so barbarous a desertion
and the horror of such a farewell
you believe is virtue and call it love!
In my great affliction
every death, O gods, is a gift;
than so wretched a life
there is no worse fate, O God!
No, cruel one, etc.
(He goes out, with Evander.)
 
 
Scene 6
 
Alcestis
O tenderness! O love!
Worthy of a better fate
and too quickly gone!
Ah, the fatal moment already draws near!
Now, now, I feel myself grow faint,
I feel myself grow weak.
The day dazzles me, my breathing grows heavy,
a fire within consumes me.
Beloved Ismene, loving companions,
in my last moments
help me still.
Take from me this wretched finery:
bring me garlands, perfumes,
let the gods have my final offerings.
 
Ismene
O, how quickly in its fair flowering
your pleasant life has fled from you!
 
Courtiers
O, how quickly
your pleasant life has fled from you!
 
Ismene
Like a tender rose that at dawn
is dried up by the cold north wind.
 
Courtiers
O, how quickly, etc.
 
 
 
 
Ismene
And still my heart does not break!
And our suffering, your mercy,
your virtue do not lessen
the injustice of heaven.
 
Alcestis
Be silent; you are wrong to accuse the gods;
you offend Alcestis. I myself
offered myself up voluntarily, and my death
is through devotion, not through force.
My beloved children, let them come to me.
In such pains let a dying mother
have some happiness
in clasping them to her bosom.
And meanwhile you and I offer the gods
vows, and prayers, and do not weep.
 
Ismene
So fair!
 
Courtiers
So young! So chaste! So dear!
Cruel prey to greedy death,
just gods, why should she be?
 
Ismene
That fair face and that fair smile…
 
Courtiers
The splendour of those fair eyes…
Ah why, ah why, merciful gods,
will she be hidden from us for ever?
 
Alcestis (approaching the altar and burning incense)
Vesta, you that were and are
my first guardian spirit,
for your children receive, alas,
my children on this day.
And in you may they find,
when I am a cold, wandering shade,
a mother as loving
as she who died.
 
of such troubles, fearful, dismayed,
it is as if my soul flies from life.
 
All
O, how quickly, etc
 
Alcestis
O chaste, O dear nuptial couch,
my sweet care, my sole love,
while merciful heaven
was willing to defend me
from these dreadful stars,
if you receive another, new wife,
she may be dearer, nay be fairer
than your wretched, dead Alcestis;
but not more tender, nor more faithful.
 
Ismene
So fair, so young,
So yield to the arms of death.
 
Alcestis, Ismene
Amid the laments, amid the tears,
of children and of a husband...
 
All
There is no fate, O God, more barbarous
no suffering more cruel.
 
Ismene
My Queen, here are your children.
(taking the children and bringing them to Alcestis)
 
Alcestis
Beloved pledges of my unassuming love,
tender children, embrace your mother!
Ah, perhaps these are our
last kisses!
In vain I fancied I would be happy
one day in seeing you happy!
I shall not see the marriage torches burn,
nor your happy weddings;
I shall not hear Greece boast
of your glories and your courage.
How cruel a fate for a mother!
My bosom is overwhelmed with weeping,
the surge of sighs
prevents my speech,
and at the thought of so proud a fate,
of such troubles, fearful, dismayed,
it is as if my soul flies from life.
 
Eumelus
Ah, my beloved mother!
O God, you kiss me and you weep!
And would leave me
and speak of dying.
 
Aspasia
Ah, mother beloved!
O God! You embrace me,
my mother, and sigh!
And you would leave me.
 
Eumelus, Aspasia
Wretched that we are!
 
Alcestis
Children, beloved children! O God!
Sadly I must die.
In vain you press against my bosom
and clasp me with your loving arms.
O how quickly
these gentle bonds will be broken!
That mercy, that weeping
can delight me no more…
Come, let us go to your father:
your dying mother entrusts and
commends you to him…
But…what new terrible
thought assails me
that I feel a mortal shiver
in every vein!
Weep, ah yes,
weep, innocent children!
I leave you with uncertain hopes
to a love that could be extinguished
with the passing of years…
There you are, slaves to a mother –
ah, what mother! – mother only in name.
There you are exposed to envy, to suspicion,
to hatred, to so many hidden counsels
of the realm, and jealousy.
You no longer have a mother,
beloved children!
Ah for this now weary heart of mine,
O dear, loving children,
your weary looks that you tenderly turn to me
are so many darts of love!
Already I feel you troubling my rest
when afflicted, bewildered, grieving
you will say: ‘Ah where is our mother,
ah, our mother, ah, our mother is dead.’
The fiercest of all torments is
to be separated from one’s dear children
and leave them amid such dangers,
and leave them weeping so.
 
All
O, how quickly, in its fair flowering
your pleasant life has fled from you!, etc.

 

Act III

Scene 1
The magnificent entrance hall of the palace.
 
Admetus
Ah, my faithful follower!
 
Evander
Ah, my king!
 
Admetus
The vow of Alcestis cannot be revoked.
 
Evander
You cannot die for her yourself.
 
Admetus
The heavens will not allow it.
 
Evander
The God is silent.
Oh fates too dreadful for us!
 
Admetus
Alcestis has to die.
 
Evander
We lose Alcestis!
 
Admetus
You weep, beloved Evander,
and you are right to do so.
But suffering is measured only by one’s own suffering.
See to what pain the gods condemn me.
I cannot die for the one who dies for me!
I hate Life, and the tomb is closed to me!
At every moment of my wretched days I shall remember
the faithfulness of lost Alcestis,
her love, courage, constancy:
in every object I shall imagine her beauty,
that sweet, lovely look,
that gentle smile, that modest blush.
More vivid still will these proud memories be
in the likenesses of the children;
and I must always embrace them weeping,
sigh and kiss them…
Ah what a contrast of opposite feelings!
Oh what a long succession of tenderness
pity and horror, so bitter for a husband,
for a father, is heaven preparing!
 
Wretched man! And what shall I do!
And how, and how, and with what heart
shall I embrace my children;
as in its harshness
the barbarous pity of tyrannous heaven
keeps me still alive!
Wretched that I am! And with what heart
shall I comfort them,
how shall I answer them
when, bathed in tears,
they remind their father
of their mother!
They will ask me – ah what grief –
for their mother.
 
No, I do not find in me
such dreadful constancy in such pain:
in foretelling it
my heart shudders…
Into what abyss have I fallen, in a single day,
from the height of contentment.
You envied me my happiness, O gods!
Too similar to yours was my state
When I had Alcestis!
And yet, O God!
How can I see her die in my arms,
and from her fair eyes the light fade,
and see in that fair face, and on that fair bosom
the cold, black spreading of grey death!
Ah now quickly flies the moment
and this scene of horror is at hand.
Wretched that I am! What do I see! Lo, she is here!
O sight! O cruelty! She comes forward
unsteadily, languishing,
and with her she has the children,
and there comes for the last parting my…
Ah, no longer mine! – my faithful wife…
O Alcestis, O children,
O parting, O death!
 
 
Scene 2
(Alcestis appears, supported by Ismene, with Eumelus, Aspasia and the attendants of Alcestis; then the Gods of the Underworld)
 
Alcestis
Husband, Admetus, my idol!
Lo, the moment that parts me from you
and breaks
our loving chains for ever.
About me hovers
the haughty shadow of death
that grasps his sword, raises his right hand,
and signals to give the fatal blow.
Soon Alcestis, a cold corpse
in cold marble hidden,
will be no longer mother, queen and wife.
 
Admetus
O agony!
 
Evander
O cruel vow!
 
Ismene
O faithfulness!
 
Alcestis
The Gods all know, my dearest,
if in the youthfulness that smiles on me,
if as lover and beloved, mother and Queen,
accustomed to the joys of life,
with a single sigh I made you a gift of it.
Ah this gift deserves a reward!
Here it is:
I ask that our children do not see you
take another wife in your arms.
If you promise it, if you swear it to me,
to our dear children, to the Gods,
I shall close my eyes in peace to eternal rest.
 
Admetus
Alcestis! My treasure!
Ah! What you ask is my sacred duty.
Yes, I promise, I will fulfil it:
I swear to the Gods, to you.
You alone did I love, Alcestis, while you lived:
dead, I shall always adore you.
These children shall be my only children.
Every happiness flies from me with your death:
there remains for me weeping, mourning, pain,
that will end with the ending of my days…
And oh happy would I be,
if heaven hastened this sweet moment
to bring me to you again in the serene
calm abode, to the beautiful souls of the elect.
 
Alcestis
Come then and receive from the hand of your wife
these beloved pledges that I entrust to you
and take your last farewell.
 
Admetus
The last!
 
Alcestis
Ah!… Yes.
 
Admetus
I feel my heart rent
by a flood of sorrow!
 
 
Alcestis
Aspasia, Eumelus,
O dear sharers in this bosom!
Think of me, come
often to my tomb,
deck it with flowers.
(A loving shade I will hover round you.)
And of your poor mother’s
memorable vow, faithfulness, love,
sometimes remind your father…
 
Dear children, ah, do not weep;
all his tender affection
your father promises you.
 
Admetus
Dear children, ah, you alone will be
the comfort and the delight
of this heart!
 
Alcestis
Be consoled, O beloved husband!
 
Admetus
Too barbarous is my fate!
 
Alcestis, Admetus
Ah my beloved! In such a moment
only your sorrow troubles me!
 
Admetus
What bitter torment,
what torture, what death
to see my sweet wife
torn from me.
I am the example
of how much
a wretched man, O God,
can suffer living.
Gods, friends, ah who will help me!
 
Alcestis
Husband, children, ah, while she lives
embrace yet Alcestis.
 
Admetus, Ismene, Evander
But what sound of terrible voices,
what gloom and darkness
surprises us, covers us with horror!
 
Admetus
So many fearful shades!
What will become of us! O consort!
 
Evander
So many ghosts of
fierce and threatening appearance!
 
Ismene
What is their wish?
 
Eumelus, Aspasia
Ah mother!
 
Gods of the Underworld
Come, Alcestis; remember your vow;
never did fate so long delay
her harsh, savage severity.
 
Alcestis
Alas! Who shakes me!
Who stirs me
from that dulling of the senses
in which I languished, without any grief,
at peace and unspeaking.
Who are these that surround me!
Ah, I am lost!
 
Gods of the Underworld
Why do you stay!
You are the victim of Dis
 
Admetus
Stop: hear be satisfied O gods,
and take away with you a loving husband.
who without her will surely live no more.
 
Gods of the Underworld
No more is allowed,
There is no more mercy.
 
Admetus
But at least a moment…
 
Alcestis
But one more embrace…
 
Gods of the Underworld
No more is allowed,
there is no more mercy.
 
A God
Come!
 
Admetus
Ah barbarians!
 
A God
Rein in, rash mortal,
the ill-considered passion that transports you.
 
Alcestis
Children, farewell!
Husband, farewell!
 
Admetus
I die!
 
Alcestis
I am dead.
 
(Alcestis is carried off by the Gods of the Underworld. Admetus falls, fainting, and is led within.)
 
 
Scene 3
 
Sinfonia
 
A Voice
Has she died?
 
Another Voice
Does she live no more?
 
Evander
Among those shades she is hidden
and has gone.
 
Ismene
I freeze… with terror.
 
Evander
I tremble… with fear.
 
Ismene, Evander
O how we grieve!
Who will help us?
Who comfort us?
 
Courtiers
Weep, O country, O Thessaly,
Alcestis is dead,
Alcestis is dead!
 
Ismene
Alcestis is dead! Alas!
Never shall tears have an end,
that will bathe
these sad shores!
 
Courtiers
Weep, O country, etc.
 
Evander
Death triumphs
and distorts the virtue of beauty,
removing
the model of honesty.
 
Courtiers
Weep, O country, etc.
 
Ismene, Evander
Every finest virtue
has departed with her:
In this way, gods,
you wished to punish us!
 
Courtiers
Weep, O country, etc.
 
(Admetus enters, with his courtiers, who cluster round to disarm him.)
 
 
Scene 4
 
Admetus
Leave me, cruel men,
in vain you hope to prevent my death:
in vain heaven opposes my designs.
Alcestis is dead; and life
is now torture for me.
How could I bear to look at
these hateful walls!
To turn my gaze and see her no more!
To go wandering about
and everywhere encounter
loneliness and grief!
Ah! He who prevents
such an evil fate by dying
is the worst of living men,
an object of my hatred.
 
Ismene
Ah, lord!
 
Evander
Ah, my king!
 
Admetus
Stand aside: be silent:
leave me, for pity.
 
Ismene
But this realm…
 
Evander
But these children…
 
Admetus
Ismene, Evander, O God!
Cease to torture me…
I have in my mind,
in my heart, none other than Alcestis,
and wish to be with her again.
 
(A light starts to appear in the sky.)
 
Ismene
But what unexpected lightning flash was that?
 
Evander
What great light sets ablaze the clouds?
 
Admetus
Ah, in the tomb itself
shall I be enclosed with my adored wife:
I shall follow her faithfully to the happy place
that heaven keeps
for the just and for heroes.
 
Evander
Stop…
 
Ismene
Wait…
 
Admetus
What is happening?
 
Evander
Look…
 
Ismene
See…
 
Admetus
What wonders are these?
 
Ismene
Ah, a god!
 
Evander
A god descends among us
and seems to bear with him
all the rays of the sun.
 
Admetus
I am amazed.
 
Ismene, Evander
I am strengthened.
 
Admetus
It is Apollo!
 
 
Ismene, Evander
It is he!
 
 
Final Scene
(Apollo on a shining cloud; Alcestis amid clouds)
 
Apollo
Admetus, even in heaven
your wretched suffering
has aroused pity. Your faithful
wife’s generous vow
has pleased the gods.
Two such constant lovers
deserve a better fate.
As on earth one day
you welcomed me,
so receive the greatest reward
that through the favour of heaven
a mortal can hope for:
I give you back Alcestis.
 
Admetus
Ah, my life!
 
Alcestis
Ah, my beloved!
 
Admetus
You live!
 
Alcestis
I embrace you!
 
Admetus
O wonder!
 
Alcestis
O amazement!
 
Admetus
O happiness!
 
Alcestis
O dear children! O beloved husband!
And now again I clasp you all to my bosom.
 
Admetus
O merciful heaven!
O kindly god! O happy day!
Let my realm celebrate
this unexpected event;
prepare solemn sacrifice,
and let your first thoughts, my dearest,
and my first vows,
on so happy a day
be given to the gods.
 
Courtiers
Reign over us in happiness,
excellent lady, whose equal on the throne
no other lady ever was.
Fair and chaste, and wise and strong:
in you are joined
all beauties and all virtues…