There is much to be admired in Anne Sofie Von Otter’s interpretation : she makes of Alceste a truly moving character, and really charges each word with meaning and expression. Compare this and her interpretation of Clytemnestre in “Iphigénie en Aulide” (Gardiner – Erato) recorded 10 or fifteen years ago and you will hear how her knowledge and diction of the French language have improved to reach perfection. She however is too stretched by the tessitura of the role and, if still powerful, her voice discolours at the bottom of the range especially. Because of that, I’m afraid the Alceste of Jessye Norman for Baudo is still too strong of a contestant : she might be a bit too diva-esque to make you believe that she is a real character, but the voice is just too beautiful for words.
Then there is Gardiner’s conducting. I really do not think that he brings life to the piece : on the contrary, I find his conducting rather cold, as often, more an intellectual approach than something coming from the heart. What I found quite irritating as well, is that he allowed himself to change the lyrics of the only well-known aria of the whole work : under Gardiner the aria “Divinités du Styx,...” becomes “Ombres, larves...” (a literal translation of the Italian libretto). How presomptious is this ! Gardiner justifies it in the booklet by saying that Berlioz had himself recommended this alternative translation when he adapted the work for mezzo Pauline Viardot. However Viardot refused to change the text and still sang the aria starting with “Divinités du Styx”... I guess she also found the “new” lyrics sounded too ridiculous in French (“What larvae ?”).
Not the ideal set then... When wil we get a version conducted by Minkowski ?