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

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Iphigenia by Anselm Feuerbach, 1862
22 May 2011

Iphigénie en Tauride at the Washington National Opera

The Washington National Opera has concluded its 2010-11 season with Gluck’s 1779 masterpiece Iphigénie en Tauride, arguably the great Viennese composer’s greatest achievement and his swan song (if one does not count that unfortunate flop of 1780, Echo et Narcisse — and luckily, one hardly ever does).

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Click here for cast and production information

Click here for a photo gallery

Above: Iphigenia by Anselm Feuerbach, 1862

 

The production is also the swan song for Placido Domingo, WNO’s departing artistic director and the star of Iphigénie’s long-awaited and much-acclaimed 2007 revival at the Met. Although the DC audiences who missed that event (last reprised in February this year) were in for a treat in experiencing Domingo’s masterly Orestes, the fabulous Stephen Wadsworth production in which he appeared did not — alas! — accompany him from New York. Instead, we saw a creation of Spanish director Emilio Sagi, imported from Ópera de Oviedo, a small, picturesque and artistically adventurous town in the Northern Spanish province of Asturias. Yet, if there was ever a case made for choosing a locally grown creative product over an import, this was it. The WNO Iphigénie was a classic example of an aural triumph cloaked in a visual disaster: from the opening chorus on, I wished that the vengeful gods of Olympus would strike me blind and let me enjoy a wonderful opera in a truly superior performance while sparing me the ugliness on stage.

If one had to choose, the industrial-looking sets by Luis Antonio Suarez were the least objectionable element of the Oviedo production. The metal-and-concrete box that, according to Suarez, doubled as the heroine’s temple and her prison was a reasonable contemporary interpretation of the plot. Indeed, watching the singers in floor-length costumes climbing up and down flimsy metal ladders built into the concrete while trying to produce an acceptable sound was a heart-stopping experience, designed no doubt to increase dramatic tension. The back of the set, a cross between a gigantic wrought-iron gate and a mosaic of mirrored glass, was actually attractive, and the minimalistic set of Act 3, with its metal floor-length torch, modernist angular white armchair, and stone back wall that opened out into the starry night was an effective conceit. But the costumes by Oviedo’s own Pepa Ojanguren were to die for — and not in a good way. The highlights included loosely hanging black tunics, pants, and skirts; cloaks of cheap plastic for the warriors and one-piece bathing suits for the dancers; and the horribly lurid black lycra bodices that made the choristers look like they were wearing bargain trash bags (dare one make a bad pun on “Eurotrash” at this point?). I am still puzzled over the vision of lead dancer and choreographer Diniz Sanchez bouncing around the stage on high-tech curved metal stilts — that is, when he was not clinging for dear life to Iphigenia’s shoulders, lest he lose his balance and tumble into the orchestra pit. I am not certain, however, if that particular detail should be credited to the choreographer himself or to the stage director: both seemed determined to design all stage movements either for Olympic athletes or ballet dancers, without the slightest concern for the performers who would actually have to execute their ideas. For instance, the living chain of priestesses, their bare arms on each other’s shoulders, might prove attractive, even affecting in Giselle, but instead looked merely embarrassing on the ladies of the WNO choir, who do not all wear size two, and who deserve much praise for delivering beautiful renditions of Iphigénie’s stunning choruses, despite their predicament.

The same can be said for American soprano Patricia Racette, who brought both vocal prowess (with only an occasional muddiness on highs) and powerful drama to her portrayal of Iphigenia. That is, when her considerable acting talent was not stymied by the stage director. Evidently torn between a realistic and a symbolic interpretation of her character, Sagi produced neither, instead punctuating Racette’s part with random swoons and melodramatic clutching of the stomach. This approach looked particularly bizarre in the opening scene, in which the ingenious effect of projecting images of swirling storm clouds onto the gauze front curtain (lighting designer Eduardo Bravo) was entirely ruined by awkward acting behind the gauze. The audience was left to wonder whether Iphigenia and her priestesses were being battered by the waves or suffering from an acute case of seasickness.

The music-drama contradictions in Pilade’s character, however, should likely be attributed not to the director but to Shawn Mathey, American tenor cast in the role. It is perfectly understandable why Mathey would be tempted to make Pilade a Heldentenor: in the story, Pilades is indeed a hero, who in the opera’s finale rescues his friend Orestes and Iphigenia from the clutches of the tyrant Thoas (the fabulously menacing Simone Alberghini — the only singer who really owned that black lycra). Unfortunately (and rarely for this superb opera), the score does not support the libretto here. The part is written for a haute-contre — a very high, light, almost feminine tenor timbre, more appropriate for an over-excited adolescent (or a wimpy Don Ottavio — Mathey’s most recent part on the WNO stage) than a heroic young warrior. It is not the bravura of his Act 3 “to-the-rescue” aria, but the languid, mildly erotic grace of the Act 2 romance that define Gluck’s Pilade — and appropriately, it was the romance and not the aria in which Mathey shined.

Overall, despite the youth of many soloists (four of them Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists), the vocal quality of the performance was surprisingly and consistently excellent from the beginning of Act 1. Yet, the first note out of Placido Domingo’s mouth in the Act 1 finale puts us on notice: the king of the Greeks has arrived. Domingo’s magnificent Orestes has been much discussed since he took up the baritone part in the 2007 Met production. The dramatic intensity he brings to the role makes one forget his age, his tenor past, even his star power: we see only the character, and forget to applaud the performer (which, of course, was the goal of Gluck’s opera reform that gave birth to Iphigénie). It is a good thing too, for there are few moments in the score that allow for an applause break, and fewer still in the part of Orestes: with the exception of his Act 2 monolog, that character’s best moments are ensemble scenes (such as his duets with Pilades, and the Act 3 trio with Pilades and Iphigenia) and occasional throw-away lines of declamation, such as the single phrase allowed him in Act 1, which he rendered with the perfectly pitched, beautifully delivered anguish. The role of Orestes is well suited to the Domingo of today: it offers the lower vocal range he now prefers; and the patented absence of fast coloratura allows the singer to showcase an impeccably contoured and virtually unadorned bel canto line molded flawlessly to the declamation, as Gluck’s music submits to the demands of the drama.

The only issues that arose throughout the performance were not of Domingo’s own making. An occasional lapse in projection in Act 3 was a gift of the director who positioned Orestes at the very back of the stage with his back to the audience. As for the moments during which the singer seemed to have trouble catching up with the orchestra, this concern was shared by all the soloists and the chorus and must be attributed to some unaccountably brisk tempos selected by conductor William Lacey — a particularly dicey proposition, considering that the chorus rarely had the luxury of facing the baton, while Domingo and Mathey spent the opening scene of Act 2 blind-folded. On the other hand, the British conductor elicited an unexpectedly strong, clean performance from the WNO orchestra, typically the company’s weakest link. Granted, this feat might have been made possible by the absence of several habitual offenders from the wind and brass sections in Gluck’s 18th-century score.

On the whole, despite its ups and downs, the WNO presentation of Iphigénie en Tauride has been a testament to the enduring power of Gluck’s chef-d’oeuvre, reminding us of the heights to which its drama can be lifted by a great interpreter, and thankfully, of the score’s ability to overcome the deficiencies of a mediocre one. Not that this opera needs much interpreting: unlike much of the pre-Mozart repertoire, it does not feel out of place on a modern stage. Instead, it offers high-minded tragedy, revealed through flexible declamation and ensemble dialog, rather than high-powered solo numbers — an approach embraced in many contemporary operas. But unlike their music, viewed sometimes as too dissonant and forbidding, Gluck’s score is transcendently beautiful, selling the concept of operatic ensemble drama to an audience raised on the Romantic era’s coloratura tours-de-force. I hope we shall see this work often. I also hope that when next Iphigenia of Tauris arrives in Washington DC, she is not only a pleasure to hear, but also a pleasure to watch.

Olga Haldey

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):