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

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

Billed as the ‘First British Performance’ - though it had had a prior, quasi-private outing at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe in July - Opera della Luna’s production of Johann Strauss Jnr’s The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief (Das Spitzentuch der Königin) at Wilton’s Music Hall began to sound pretty familiar half-way through the overture (which was played with spark and elegance by conductor Toby Purser’s twelve-piece orchestra).

Glyndebourne perform La clemenza di Tito at the Proms

The advantage of Glyndebourne Opera’s performances at the BBC Proms is that they give us a chance to concentrate on the music making. And there was plenty of high-quality music-making on offer at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 28 August 2017 when Glyndebourne Opera performed Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Plácido Domingo as Oreste [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera]
27 Feb 2011

Iphigénie en Tauride, New York

Gluck’s operas are part of a continuum, a tradition of French vocal declamation (as opposed to the Italian school of flights of elegant, open-throated vocal fantasy) that can be traced to him from Lully and Rameau, and then from Gluck through certain works of Mozart and Gluck’s pupil, Salieri to the operas of Spontini, Berlioz and Wagner.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Iphigénie: Elizabeth Bishop; Oreste: Plácido Domingo; Pylade: Paul Groves; Thoas: Gordon Hawkins; Diane: Julie Boulianne; Priestesses: Lei Xu, Cecelia Hall. Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Summers. Performance of February 16.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Oreste

Except as otherwise indicated, all photos by Ken Howard courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera

 

It is not a greater or lesser tradition than the Italian style, but it achieves different dramatic effects, or the same effects by different means, and individual singers are often more proficient in one than in the other. Specialists in Gluck being rare (though he is, happily, going through one of his periodic revivals just now), one must seek great Gluck singers in other branches of the repertory. Those trained for Wagner, not too surprisingly, often fit well in the Gluckian glove. Thus, back in the 1950s, Flagstad and Farrell were both superb as Gluck’s Alceste and would probably have been exciting as his Iphigénie.

Elizabeth_Bishop_02.gifElizabeth Bishop [Photo by Sasha Vasiljev courtesy of Barrett Vantage Artists]

With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that Susan Graham was indisposed on the night I attended Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met and would be replaced by Elizabeth Bishop. I had last heard Bishop as Venus in Tannhäuser (also a last-minute replacement) and have fond memories of that performance: a young singer of great authority and potential in dramatic roles. But Iphigénie is a less one-note conception than Venus; too, she is the epitome of restraint where Venus is just the opposite.

Gluck’s Iphigénie, taken from Euripides, is a dignified priestess, torn between her personal, humane, Greek sense of ethics and the demands of the barbaric society in which she finds herself trapped, demands that include performing human sacrifices. The screw turns its final gyre when two proposed victims are her long-lost brother, Oreste, and his friend Pylade. Tension is provided by the fact that, after fifteen years apart, the siblings do not recognize each other and somehow never ask each other’s name. Wouldn’t you tell a priestess your name before she cut your throat?

The situation is resolved in antique high style by the appearance of the deity, Diane, who rescues the Greeks and abolishes human sacrifice—but she takes her time to show up (at the end of Act IV), allowing us to comprehend the noble natures of our legendary characters as they face their predicament. In Gluck’s stately score dignity is the watchword, though at the Met, in Stephen Wadsworth’s excessively busy production, Iphigénie is inclined to hysterical fits and hallucinations. So, for that matter, is Oreste, but he has an excuse—the Furies drove him mad for his brief fit of matricide back in Aeschylus’ Oresteia.

IPHIGENIE_Groves_and_Doming.gifPaul Groves as Pylade and Plácido Domingo as Oreste

Bishop sang the priestess-princess with the right stately propriety and a large, burnished mezzo, but with occasional lapses of evenness, of control, that suggested she had not fully gauged the demands of this long role. It was not a fully crafted performance, though a promising one; if Ms. Graham remains under the weather (Bishop has sung at least one other evening since the one I attended), another excursion or two should pull it all together. Plácido Domingo, too, had a cold (and had the Met say so) but, canny codger that he is, concealed his discomfort behind the craziness Oreste calls for. Not until Bishop had him on his back on the altar, knife poised above, did the familiar Domingo sound pour miraculously forth. Paul Groves, as Pylade, had much the best night of the three leading singers, with an ardent, gleaming sound and acting that made this two-dimensional sidekick role seem genuinely heroic. Mr. Groves has usually been regarded as a lightweight, Mozartean tenor, but his singing here implied that he could take on weightier assignments rewardingly: Florestan or Samson or (in Domingo’s footsteps) light Wagner. Gordon Hawkins sang Thoas unimpressively, Julie Boulianne was acceptable as Diane, and I must say a word about Lei Xu and Cecelia Hall, who made a genuine and joyous impression in the small roles of Iphigénie’s assisting priestesses. Gluck obscures no one; his score allows everyone to shine if she or he is able to. The Met chorus did a tidy a job and Patrick Summers brought out the many felicities of this gracious, unusual score that sums up so much of where drama and opera had led by 1779 and predicts so much of what was to come.

IPHIGENIE_Graham_and_Hawkin.gifSusan Graham as Iphigénie and Gordon Hawkins as Thoas

The Wadsworth production accompanies the “Janissary” percussion Gluck composed so that we’d know we were in a land of barbarians with inane and frantic dancing here and there in nooks and landings and crannies of the set to make us think wild orgies were going on next door. There are also pointless and tiresome intrusions of the ghosts of persons sung about who have no business being on stage, where they confuse the casual viewer and annoy the knowing one. All these things, and Iphigénie’s hysteria could be altered with a simple restaging. Less easy to comprehend and impossible to forgive is the positioning of the statue of the goddess in her temple: In all the long millennia of religious faith, this is surely the only occasion anyone has ever offered prayers, sacrifices and hymns to the backside of a deity. Couldn’t they turn her at least ninety degrees and have them offer sacrifice beside her?

All that aside, it’s a good show.

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):