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Summer Opera 2006: "Iphigénie en Tauride"

Susan Graham in Iphigénie en Tauride, Opéra national de Paris, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, 2006Marc Minkowski brought his group, Les Musiciens du Louvre -- Grenoble, to the Opéra national de Paris earlier this summer for a production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, with Susan Graham in the title role. The combination of star singer, Baroque performance group, enfant terrible director, and major opera house makes my heart sing. What did Marie-Aude Roux have to say (Iphigénie, momie recluse en Tauride, June 11) in Le Monde? Here is a partial translation:

This new production at the Palais Garnier, by the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski, making his début at the Opéra de Paris, will be remembered as one of the most striking spectacles of this season. Everything about it is of a remarkable clarity, an exemplary gravity, a limpidity as blinding as the crime of Oreste, the Oedipal matricide in black glasses who has come to receive his punishment in the arms of his sister Iphigénie, a refugee in Tauride after Diana saved her from Agamemnon's sacrificial knife in Aulis. [...]

Iphigénie in Tauride, according to Warlikowski, is a crazy, ailing virgin. An old actrice, bandaged up and trembling, heavily made up, dripping in jewels (the magnificent Renate Jett), constantly reliving her "Tauride story in deserted Mycenae," the daughter of the House of Atrides in woeful exile, surviving in a retirement home among the phantoms of her youth, surrounded by eternal old women -- the Erinyes or Eumenides. Tragedy is also about family -- polonaise, marriage, widowhood, the army, religion -- the last refuge of a 21st century, already ready to check out of what has only just begun. In a pure and hard space (tile and medical supplies, stripped beds, and club chairs in a corner around a television), behind a moving wall of tulle and mirrors, Oreste and Pylade are made prisoners, given over to the bloody hands of Iphigénie, a red-robed priestess out of a Pabst film, so in love with a brother she doesn't recognize that she cannot kill him without killing herself (at the moment she goes to slit his throat, a video makes her relive her own sacrifice in Aulis).
Other Resources:

Manon Ardouin, Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie! (, June 10)

Jorg von Uthmann, Gluck's `Iphigenie' Ends Up in Old Folks' Home at Paris Opera (Bloomberg News, June 15)

Brigitte Cormier, Une vision fantasmée (, June 20)

Catherine Alexander, Les ravages du temps et de la mémoire (Webthea, June 22)
Minkowski and his group were almost universally praised in all the reviews I read. Susan Graham was ill at the opening of the production and had to cancel on opening night, but she returned to triumph. Her cover, Maria Riccarda Wesseling, was good on opening night and for the final three performances she was scheduled to sing. Jean-Louis Validire wrote a brief review (Les fantasmes du metteur en scène, June 12) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Not everyone is lucky enough to live in Grenoble, where Marc Minkowski led, on Friday in the large auditorium of the MC2, a concert performance of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, which was just presented at the Opéra Garnier last night. Parisian audiences are less fortunate. One had to be, in effect, a little bit schizophrenic to be able both to appreciate the excellent musical leadership of the conductor, who with his Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble knew how to produce with the elegance intended by the composer all the nuances and colors of this work, the product of the "reform" that broke with opera seria. [...]

It was an evening that would have been memorable if, yet one more time at the Opéra de Paris, the director had not deliberately torn up the libretto to make a completely different work. In a glaucous world, an old drunk woman, the silent double of Iphigénie, wanders between the washsinks, the beds, and the corner television of a run-down retirement home in which senior citizens waiting for death vegetate. The ballet was replaced by a ballgame and a grotesque procession, one old woman following the parade with her walker. The young Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski, who took over this production after Isabelle Huppert backed out, imposed his own world and nightmares as background, almost under the ground of Gluck's opera, thereby abandoning the libretto. It is that much sadder that the very interest of this opera rests on the intertwining of the poetry and the music and the rare equilibrium of the two makes it a masterpiece, when one truly wants to serve it rather than be served by it. That is the case with this production which, yet one more time, has little chance of remaining in the repertoire of the national opera.
Many of the other reviews were similarly very negative. Some reported that there was loud booing for the director and his production. It seems like Gérard Mortier will not rest until he is driven out of Paris by an angry mob. For those lucky readers living in France, one of the performances will be broadcast on France Musiques on August 14, at 8 pm.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw the Sunday matinee. I thought it was engaging and dreamlike, brilliantly and refreshingly staged, although a bit much to demand that your soprano sing flat on her back on a raked stage. Nevertheless, five bows for the cast, boos for the director, baffled me.