The Alcestiad is an opera in three acts by Louise Talma to a libretto that Thornton Wilder wrote based on his 1955 play of the same name. It premiered in German as Die Alkestiade at the Oper Frankfurt on 1 March 1962. It was the first full-length opera by an American woman staged at a major European opera house.[1]

The Alcestiad
Die Alkestiade
Opera by Louise Talma
LibrettistThornton Wilder
  • English
  • German
Based onWilder's play
1 March 1962 (1962-03-01)



The American composer Louise Talma collaborated with Thornton Wilder, who created the libretto based on his 1955 play The Alcestiad: Or, a Life in the Sun (1955) which was in turn based on Alcestis by Euripides.[2] It was Wilder's idea to set the plot to music and approach Talma. She delivered sketches already in 1955, which Wilder approved.[2] Talma composed the work in three acts and used serial composition techniques.[1][3]

Wilder managed to interest Harry Buckwitz of the Städtische Bühnen Frankfurt in the world premiere. Wilder, who was awarded the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (peace prize of the German book trade) in 1957, was well received in Germany. The opera premiered on 1 March 1962 at the Oper Frankfurt, in a German version Die Alkestiade by Herberth Herlischka. It was directed by Harry Buckwitz, and conducted by Wolfgang Rennert.[1][2][4] It was the first full-length opera by an American woman staged at a major European opera house.[1][5] The first performance was not critically acclaimed,[2] but nevertheless covered by the international press,[1] including The New York Times and the Salzburger Nachrichten.[3] Critics from the FAZ and the Los Angeles Times wrote that, while the music was skillfully crafted, the libretto was "too strong" for music.[3] The music was described as influenced by Schoenberg, Honegger and Stravinsky, with "harsh brass dissonances and shattering percussion effects".[3]

The opera remained Talma's only composition for the stage.[3]: 155 


Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role Voice type[1] Premiere cast, 1 March 1962[1]
Alkestis soprano Inge Borkh
Aglaia (her servant) mezzo-soprano Rosl Zapf
Admettos (her husband) baritone Ernst Gutstein
Epimenes (their son) baritone Hans Wilbrink
Tiresias tenor Max Lorenz
Herkules baritone Leonardo Wolovsky
Agis bass Peter Lagger
Apollo tenor Richard Holm


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Ross Griffel, Margaret (2018). "Die Alkestiade". Operas in German: A Dictionary. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-44-224797-0.
  2. ^ a b c d "Lieber nicht". Der Spiegel (in German). 14 March 1962. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Leonard, Kendra Preston (2014). "The Alcestiad". Louise Talma / A Life in Composition. Routledge. pp. 155–180. ISBN 978-1-47-241643-8.
  4. ^ Borkh, Inge (2002). "Die Alkestiade". Ich komm vom Theater nicht los ... / Erinnerungen und Einsichten (in German). BoD. pp. 103–105. ISBN 978-3-83-113660-5.
  5. ^ Cohn, Arthur; Holcomb, Dorothy Regina; Jobin, Sara; Davidson, Virginia; Smith, Gregg (2001). "Talma, Louise". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.27425. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. (subscription required)

Further reading