Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Iphigenie by Anselm Feuerbach (1862)
30 Dec 2007

Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met

Regarded, until the modern vogue for earlier masters, as the senior surviving grand master of opera, Gluck never quite becomes fashionable and never quite vanishes.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Iphigénie: Susan Graham; Oreste: Placido Domingo; Pylades: Paul Groves; Thoas: William Shimell; Diane: Michele Losier.
Conducted by Louis Langrée. Production by Stephen Wadsworth.
Metropolitan Opera, December 19.

 

Today, when large audiences for older music and older styles of singing have come into being, Gluck’s simplicity and directness of dramatic melody have a chance at genuine popularity. Orfeo is back — indeed, it never went away, or not since Pauline Viardot made it chic to watch a lady wield a toga way back in 1859, and these days it is perfectly respectable for men to sing it as well. I have also seen stagings of Alceste, Armide, Paride ed Elena, Iphigénie en Aulide and Iphigénie en Tauride — the last three times, Gluck’s penultimate work for the stage and generally acknowledged masterpiece. Mozart attended every rehearsal for the Vienna premier in 1779, and one can easily detect its influence in his Idomeneo, composed the following year. Gluck’s influence on the declamatory style of Berlioz and, indeed, Wagner, is instructive: when composers want something “classic” in the style of the Greeks, Gluck, who was anything but Greek, seems the obvious model. He all but channels Euripides — whose plays are the basis for Alceste and both Iphigénies.

Hedging its bets, the Met insured Iphigénie’s success at the box office by presenting Placido Domingo in the usually baritone role of Oreste (and we’d so much rather have him sing Gluck, in any register, than crap like Sly or Cyrano). Having thus guaranteed that all performances would sell out, the Met went on to secure Stephen Wadsworth’s production, whose kinks had been worked out at the Seattle Opera, and the services of Susan Graham in the title role, after hearing her sing it in Chicago and other venues. The mixture worked very well; enthusiasm for all elements was all the Met could have desired, and lovers of Gluck could feel their fidelity justified: the merchandise is as good as its repute.

Musically, it could be argued that the production’s tendency to link number to number, scene to scene, negating the breaks where applause could be signaled, makes it tougher for audiences to grasp: it’s all or nothing. But opera audiences of today are not the ones Gluck had to face — they are now accustomed to long stretches of uninterrupted music-drama. Therefore Wadsworth filled — overfilled, I’d say — “empty” stretches of music, and even moments with no music to cover them, with loud noises so the audience would not applaud a sublime aria, or else with dumb shows, acting and mime, and variously neurotic behavior on the part of his characters. Did Gluck work so hard to take the clutter and irrelevancy out of opera only to have Wadsworth put it back? Here — yes. Oreste is supposed to be crazed, driven mad by the Furies summoned by his mother’s ghost (in Aeschylus’s Eumenides — you remember) to avenge her murder; Gluck famously contrasts his measured vocal line against mad, slashing figures in the string section, a moment subtly underlined by the evening’s expert maestro, Louis Langrée.

But Iphigénie, in my experience, has usually been rather a cold fish — the stern priestess repressing her nightmarish past, such that the revelation of her identity is a shock. In the Wadsworth staging, Graham is anything but cold — she is loonier here than her brother, hurling herself about the stage, clawing the walls. The sense that she and the other priestesses are captives, terrorized into doing the barbarians’ bloody will (which includes human sacrifice) is made superbly real by the two steep rooms into which the set is divided and the way the priestesses huddle in its corners, but I missed the regal distance of Iphigénie that alone seems to explain why she and Oreste take such a long time to come to reveal their names and discover they are brother and sister before the accursed house of Atreus suffers yet another intrafamilial homicide. Graham’s singing, too, though prettily expressive of her throes, lacked that haughty element, that grandeur that is my personal preference for Gluck-lich royalty. She is sweet where Iphigénie should be awesome. As for her desperate attitudes, clutching of walls and self, at times when she has sung of her reconciliation with her fate — this does not expand her character; it denies the power of music, and of Gluck. Gluck, I put it to you, should have the last word here — not Wadsworth or even Graham.

The relationship between Oreste and Pylade, which often has a homoerotic frisson in modern stagings of the opera (that was true in Euripides’ day, too), had nothing of the kind with Domingo in exceptional voice, a dignified, inward, tragic Oreste, and Paul Groves a thrilling Pylade. That element of excess that sometimes comes through their frenetic efforts to die in each other’s stead was not part of the drama on this occasion: they were, rather, back to back against the forces of darkness. William Shimell, as the barbaric King Thoas, sounded gruffer than the opera demands — it was never pleasant to hear him sing.

Iphigénie gave more pleasure than any other new production thus far in the crowded Met season — Wadsworth was engaging with the opera, not forcing it into another mold. Besides the bare, rude grandeur of the temple’s back room set, with its gleams of gold and mysterious lighting, I liked the way several of the opera’s celebratory or orgiastic dances (French opera has always liked more ballet than non-French opera audiences have cared for) took place all-but-off-stage, so that one glimpsed a few ecstatic movements without being distracted from starker doings stage center.

I did object, however, here as in many other productions, to the current style of giving the audience visual cues every step of the way, a style that might be called MTV opera direction: the dumb show at the beginning (for those who have forgotten the story of Iphigenia’s past — which is not likely, and in any case is described later on), the spectacular but undignified descent of the goddess from the ceiling on wires, the appearance of Clytemnestra within the pillar between Oreste and Iphigénie, blessing the two of them — a lovely stage effect but not, I suggest, what the real, vengeful Clytemnestra would have been doing and therefore intrusive.

Perhaps most absurd, why is the statue of the goddess facing away from the stage and the altar? I know they’re barbarians in Tauris (the modern Crimea), but what sort of manna are they invoking from this cult statue? Is it a pun on the “moon” in Diana’s nature? It would be nice to have Mr. Wadsworth explain this particular silliness in the midst of an exciting staging of a masterpiece too seldom heard or seen.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):