Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

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):