Iphigénie en Tauride

Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met

Iphigenie-met * Notes * 
The latest revival of the Metropolitan Opera's Iphigénie en Tauride on Saturday seemed under-rehearsed, but still has potential. There were many instances when the singers were not with the orchestra, especially as far as the chorus was concerned. Perhaps the elaborate choreography was to blame. The dancers here were more together than in Seattle Opera's 2007 version. Thomas Lynch's set does look more open from the last row of the Met than in orchestra standing room at McCaw Hall. Thomas Wadsworth's production is cluttered, and one gets the sense that he is worried his audience either does not understand what is going on or is in danger of becoming very bored. In any case, the orchestra sounded fluid under Maestro Patrick Summers.

The main cast had a lot of power, and everyone could be heard. Susan Graham may have had poor start in the title role, but did sound lovely in "Ô malheureuse Iphigénie" at the end of Act II. There were moments of roughness later in the evening, but Graham does have a glowing, beautiful sound. Plácido Domingo was strong as Orest, his reediness as a tenor was not distracting, and he was distinct from Paul Groves (Pylade). Groves sang "Unis dès la plus tendre enfance" particularly well. As Thoas, Gordon Hawkins managed to sing his high notes smoothly, and was robust throughout his range.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in the Family Circle was nearly empty, as most everyone could take a seat in the last few rows, which were far from full.

I am sorely tempted to hear the Met in HD broadcast of this opera on February 26th.

Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera

Focilepolegato* 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.

Tauric Chersonese

Tauris* Notes *
Iphigénie en Tauride had a second performance at San Francisco Opera last Sunday. The singing was again excellent. The choreography was more coherent from the middle of orchestra level standing room, but I still found it overwrought. This time I noticed that the lighting, designed by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet, was effective, making entrances and exits move along perfectly. I especially liked the scene with the Eumenides and Orestes in Act II, in which the dancers seem to just materialize and multiply out of nowhere.

* Tattling *
There were quite a lot of people waiting for rush tickets in the morning, despite the sign which read "No Student, Senior, & Military Rush For This Performance." People had called in to ask about rush tickets, and were told there were a limited number, so the sign confused them. I was asked many times about the sign, and I speculated it was from the night before.

The audience was ill-behaved for the matinée. There was a watch alarm during a choral part in Act I and a cellular phone rang during Act II.

Premiere of Iphigénie en Tauride

Bo Skovhus and Susan Graham, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) had its first performance at San Francisco Opera last night. The co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Royal Opera, Convent Garden is rather sparse, not unlike the music itself. The action takes place in a black box and the costumes likewise black, all quite simple. The unadorned staging was suitable, and might have been highly effective were it not for Philippe Giraudeau's exaggerated choreography. The chorus was consigned to the orchestra pit as dancers pantomimed of what had happened thus far to the House of Atreus.

The production is bizarre in other ways as well, the dancers ran around and wrote the names on the walls and floor, only to erase them later with water. The walls poured water, the resulting puddles on the black floor looked more urinous than bloody. The deus ex machina was not represented on stage, but Diane sang in the Grand Tier, which could work for those in the orchestra and boxes, but must have been strange for those around and above her.

The only weak singer was Mark S. Doss as the villain Thoas. He sounded as if he was being strangled. The rest of the singing was incredible, especially Susan Graham in the title role and Bo Skovhus as Oreste. The latter was slightly awkward in his carriage, but dealt well with being tossed around by dancers, he was lifted and made to walk on the walls. Paul Groves (Pylade) sang beautifully as well, though at points the orchestra overwhelmed him.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, perhaps because it was the opening of an opera not in the standard repertory. Some concupiscent gazes were noted and there was late seating in the boxes, but nothing disruptive. It was rather strange when people craned their necks to see Diane in the audience.

Iphigénie en Tauride News

C_gluckThis summer San Francisco Opera will perform Christoph Willibald Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride in a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, where it premiered on September 29, 2006. This week Seattle Opera and the Met announced a co-production of the very same opera, to premiere on October 13, 2007 in Seattle and November 27, 2007 in New York.

Seattle Opera Press Release [PDF] | Met Press Release