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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

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):