Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera
October 28, 2007
* Notes *
Tonight was the last of eight performance of Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera.This co-production with the Met is yet another Wadsworth/Lynch collaboration, this one tending more toward the elaborately overwrought (Rodelinda) rather than the staid clean lines (Lohengrin). The stage was had a claustrophobic feel, as it was divided into three parts: the main temple, an antechamber, and a sliver of the outdoors. At times one felt that there were characters in different areas for no particular reason. At some point in Act IV a Greek woman prays to a figure of Diana in the antechamber and gasps, though the singing is all happening in the other part of the stage. Later she dances about outside, and it is as if Wadsworth needs to fill every moment with motion.
The set was not contemporary, as so many of the attempts at Gluck's operas are. I did not quite understand the use of Artemis of Ephesus, there was a huge statue of her, but carrying a bow. It was an odd combination of the Greek Artemis, the virgin huntress, and the Ephesian Artemis, the many-breasted fertility goddess. The costumes suggested the draped figures one thinks of as classical, with the exceptions of Iphigénie, who looked more like a French revolutionary in her long black coat and Diana, who looked like a Goth Xena the Warrior Princess.
The opera opens with a depiction of Iphigénie's sacrifice in Aulis, and with Diana coming down from the sky to save her. The image was arresting, but possibly confusing and also ruins the surprise of how Diana enters in the Dea ex Machina at the end, of course, it is almost exactly the same. This sets the tone for the staging, we are shown what happens in the past, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon appear and we witness the latter's murder as Orest sings in Act II.
The staging involved a lot of dancing that was not quite synchronized, some of this was intentional, but sometimes it was unclear if the dancers were supposed to be together or not. Daniel Peizig's choreography for the ladies included much spinning around, and for the men something strangely akin to Morris dancing.
As for singing, I found Nuccia Focile detestable in the title role, her voice may be beautiful in Puccini, but was at times nearly unbearable in Gluck. She has far too much vibrato, and unsurprisingly she is quoted in the program as saying "You sometimes hear the music of Gluck sung in a very detached manner, almost no vibrato, but I believe this repertoire must be sung on the full tone of the voice." It was clear that she has fine control of her voice, and she chose to sing Gluck this way. Thankfully, the other lead, baritone Brett Polegato, was able to sing Orest with passion, yet not with constant wobbling. Tenor William Burden turned out a fine performance as Pylad, his voice sweet, yet with good volume and little strain. Phillip Joll sounded breathy and gasping as Thoas, though he was audible, his voice still seemed underpowered.
* Tattling *
Standing room was full just before the performance, but nearly everyone was able to find a seat. The performance began late, but there was no late seating once the music began. There was very little whispering, though people did discuss the appearance of Clytemnestra in the wall between Orest and Iphigénie. I particularly noted a pair of women in Section 3 Row AA Seats 7 and 8, who also whispered during the beginning of Act III. Someone sitting in Row BB had a plastic bottle, or something of that sort that made 3 or 4 clicking sounds during the music. But, to be honest, all this was minor, the whispering was quiet and not continual and the water bottle sounds were infrequent. The worst disturbance was at the end of the opera, around 10pm no less than 4 watch alarms went off to mark the hour. If the performance had started on time, this could have been avoided.