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9.5.11

DCist: 'Iphigénie en Tauride'

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See my review of the Washington National Opera's production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, published at DCist today:

DCist at the Opera: 'Iphigénie en Tauride' (DCist, May 9):

available at Amazon
Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride, M. Delunsch, S. Keenlyside, Les Musiciens du Louvre, M. Minkowski
Washington National Opera has made another significant advance in catching up to the latest trends in opera houses around the world, by staging its first-ever opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787). The new production of Iphigénie en Tauride, which opened on Friday night, turns out to be the best work in an otherwise downsized and somewhat ho-hum season -- not only because it is the company's first Gluck opera and such a beautiful work, but because of a superb cast that proves gripping both musically and dramatically, in a production that is intriguing, stark and far from ordinary.

Gluck premiered Iphigénie en Tauride in Paris in 1779, the culmination of the composer's heroic attempt to reform opera from a genre that was more about vocal pyrotechnics and stage diversions into something closer to its origins, the revival of the expressive power of ancient Greek tragedy. Continuing from where his previous opera Iphigénie en Aulide had left off, the libretto by Nicolas-François Guillard draws on Euripides' play Iphigenia in Tauris. The goddess Diana spares Iphigenia from being sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon, at Aulis, to provide winds for the Greek fleet to sail to Troy. Iphigenia is magically transported to Diana's temple in Tauris, a part of Scythia known today as the Crimean peninsula. Iphigenia's brother Orestes and his friend Pylades arrive at the temple, sent by Diana herself to bring her sacred images from the temple back to Greece. The Greek visitors are sentenced to be sacrificed at the hands of Iphigenia, as priestess of Diana. Unnerved by visions of who the strangers are, she agrees to let one of them escape and cannot bring herself to kill Orestes, whom she eventually recognizes as her brother. Pylades returns with soldiers to try to free Orestes, when Diana herself descends in a cloud to put all to right.

Without any daringly ornamented arias or anything extraneous that might divert attention from the story's dramatic continuity, a Gluck opera will succeed only with talented singing actors and compelling direction. There are almost none of the tried-and-true operatic clichés to fall back on, not even a romantic intrigue: the central relationship here is of brother and sister, who do not even recognize one another until the end. In the title role, soprano Patricia Racette was riveting, the searing strength of her voice underscoring the still intensity of her stage presence. This was certainly what one expected of Racette, after such satisfying turns here as Jenůfa in 2007 and Ellen Orford in 2009, but her bold and electrifying performance far exceeded my hopes. After some tentative notes at the top of her range in the first hour or so, Racette hit her stride, singing with lyrical abandon in the Act IV aria "Je t'implore et je tremble." [Continue reading]
Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride
P. Racette, P. Domingo
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House


Patricia Racette (Iphigénie) and Plácido Domingo (Oreste) in Iphigénie en Tauride, Washington National Opera, 2011 (photo by Scott Suchman)

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