More Iphigénie

The second half of the Amsterdam double bill that opened with Iphigénie en Aulide is, of course, Iphigénie en Tauride.  In this piece the more usual version of the Aulis story, where Diana substitutes a stag for Iphigenia on the altar and whisks the girl off to be her priestess among the savage Scythians of Tauris, is assumed.  So the piece opens with Iphigenia and six other Mycenean priestesses (how they got to Tauris is a mystery) in Diana’s temple at Tauris where their job is to sacrifice any strangers who show up.  Almost at once the capture of two Greeks is announced.  They turn out to Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his sidekick Pylades and the the next 90 minutes turns on Iphigenia failing to sacrifice either of them.

1.priestessesThis piece is performed much more often than the earlier work and so there are some points of comparison, notably Claus Guth’s really weird Zurich production, a rather over-literal version from the MetHD series which hasn’t yet made it to DVD and Robert Carsen’s elegant production seen in many places including Toronto.  It was even done by Opera Atelier quite a few years back.  Pierre Audi’s production is elegant, though not as stripped down as Carsen, and fairly straightforwardly told.  Again we are in a sort of militarised present and the set is the same as for the earlier work.  The priestesses, including Iphigenia, are dressed and coiffed identically in simple white robes.  The Scythians are a rough looking lot; guerilla fighters in an assortment of combat gear and toting AK47s.  I’m pretty sure Diana is somewhere on stage at all times; a brooding presence in a severely cut grey business suit.  She even gets to help Iphigenia on with her “sacrificing robe” in Act 4.  There’s a lot of symmetrically formal movement for the priestesses but there are no wild dancing Scythians and the final battle scene simply doesn’t happen.  Rather Pylades appears with Diana then walks down to the stage and simply kills Thoas.  It’s exactly the opposite of how Pinkowski treated those scenes.  There also appears to be a lot of crawling around the stage by the Scythians but most of it is off camera.  One, not quite fully developed, touch is that there is something really creepy going on between Thoas and Iphigenia in the first couple of acts.  I might have to take another look at that.

2.scythiansMusically it’s pretty interesting.  Minkowski’s tempi tend to the slow and since the band (Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble) are using period instruments and period pitch (A=403 I think) it has a more stately, less excitable, quality than I’m used to.  Curiously, despite the lower pitch, Iphigenia is sung by a soprano, Mireille Delunsch, rather than the more usual mezzo.  In any event she sings very well and the Orestes of Jean-François Lapointe and the Pylades of Yann Beuron are well up to standard.  Salomé Haller, as Diana, is the one carryover from the earlier work.  She has a bit more to do and does it well.  The acting is again strong, though perhaps not matching the incredible intensity of Gens and von Otter.  Personenregie does seem to be Audi’s strong suit.

3.bromanceThere’s a lot more going on at the side of the stage here than in Iphigénie en Aulide which makes Misjel Vermeiren’s quirky camera work much more problematic.  I suspect we miss a good chunk of what Audi is trying to convey, which is a shame.  Technical quality and details are the same as for the earlier piece.

4.dianaAs a stand-alone this production would be a strong candidate for first choice DVD version.  Coupled with the stunning Iphigénie en Aulide it’s a must have for Gluck fans.

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7 thoughts on “More Iphigénie

  1. I think Delunsch is a wonderful actress and a very stylish singer – there’s an interesting biopic of her somewhere on youtube I think – strikes me as an incredibly smart woman. Great to see Lapointe in a leading role – great French-Canadian baritone currently appearing in Dialogues of the Carmelites in Toronto. He’s one of those Canadians who seems to sing mostly in Europe, and in major roles, in major houses at that! We unfortunately don’t get to see him much (in “English” Canada at least) here.

  2. How interesting that Gluck wrote two operas about Iphigenia, with the same librettist, and yet they didn’t make the second a direct sequel to the first, but based “Aulide” on Racine and “Tauride” on the original Euripides, even though the altered ending of the former is incompatible with the whole plot of the latter! I guess it shows that the opera-creators of that time period, even revolutionary ones like Gluck, were more craftsmen than pure artists and didn’t think of themselves as creating a “canon.”

    • I don’t suppose Gluck ever expected the pieces to be performed back to back. It’s a rather remarkable double bill. I can’t see any north American house doing it, if only for reasons of cost.

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