Gluck’s 231 year old opera was broadcast throughout the world today over the Metropolitan Opera’s radio and HD networks. This is the same production that the Met offered in 2007 with the same three principals. Before that season the opera had only 5 performances at the New York house – in 1916-17. Today’s was the 16th staging by the company. I suspect that the opera will be performed by the Met with the same frequency over its next century.
I don’t wish to say that the opera is dull or without virtue. It has a stately beauty about it, one drop dead gorgeous scene (beginning ‘O malheureuse Iphigénie’) at the end of the second act, and most importantly it’s short. The Met stretched the one intermission to a length greater than either half of the performance and everyone was still out of the theater in less than three hours. The problem with Iphigénie en Tauride is competence. Not the lack of it, but rather the abundance of it. It’s all competent, in fact most of it is far better than that. It’s very good. What an awful thing to say about an opera. But nothing grabs the listener at a visceral level other than the second act finale. Musicians admire Gluck, except for Handel who said his cook knew more counterpoint, but audiences enjoy his works and then tend to forget about them – hence 16 performances in over a century.
Everything about this performance was excellent except for the health alert and the choreography. The Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, appeared before the opera’s start to announce that both Susan Graham and Placido Domingo were suffering from colds, but that troopers as they were they would battle on regardless of any rhinovirus. Singers should give 100% not 80 with a doctors note. This weaseling out should never be done; it lacks class which both Graham and Domino have a lot of. As it turned out their singing sounded as it does when they are not ill.
Now to the choreography. Daniel Pelzig was responsible for the goofy gyrations that he thought were dancing. The women looked like Whirling Dervishes while the men seemed seized with chorea. I thought for a while that the dance master was St Vitus not Pelzig. A mess that never should have been on the Met’s stage.
Susan Graham in the title role performed with vocal sheen and physical grace. Her voice is supple and beautiful. She was reason enough to attend this show. A great artist.
Placido Domingo still has a fine sound that does not show signs of his 70 years. The top part of the voice is gone, but Oreste can be sung by a baritone and thus fits perfectly into the range he has left. There’s not a high note in the part and accordingly he sounded fine. He also moved like a man 25 years younger and was a convincing actor.
Paul Groves was Pylade, Oreste’s very close friend, and I mean really close. They were Greeks. Groves has a light tenor voice produced entirely in the throat. His sound is ordinary, but on the telecast he was easy to hear. I couldn’t tell how he sounded in the auditorium. Gordon Hawkins has a fine dark baritone. He was appropriately mean as the villain Thoas. I’d like to hear more from him. He has been singing off an on at the Met for more than 20 years.
The chorus as usual sounded fine, but there were assigned arm and facial movements that made them look like the signers that appear at politically correct public meetings. It looked very strange in ancient Greece.
Patrick Summers conducted. He got a finely conceived rendition from the Met’s great orchestra.
Stephen Wadsworth directed the production. His staging was effective and unobtrusive. He allowed the drama to unfold as successfully as its slender story line allowed.
There was one set. two thirds of it was devoted to the goddess Diana’s sacrificial altar. The remaining third was a small room where the singers went when they need privacy. It got the job done, The costumes consisted mainly of schmatas. They were not a noteworthy feature of this production.
Barbara Willis Sweete was the video director. Unlike the previous Met telecasts that she directed, this one was devoid of the paralyzing close-ups that mar these shows. Her direction was in the background as it should be.
In summary, this was a fine performance of an opera that is much easier to admire than to love. It’s nice to see and hear a Gluck opera every now and then. The full cast is listed below.
IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE
Christoph Willibald Gluck-Nicolas-François Guillard
First Priestess………Lei Xu
Second Priestess……..Cecelia Hall
Scythian Minister…….David Won
Set Designer…………Thomas Lynch
Costume designer……..Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Designer…….Neil Peter Jampolis
Iphigénie en Tauride is a co-production with Seattle Opera