Saturday, February 26, 2011

Met Live in HD Review; Iphigénie en Tauride. An Opera of Opposites that Attracted

Stephen Wadsworth's production of Iphigénie en Tauride did not start with music. It started with the opposite of music; a silent dream. In the dream Iphigénie recalled that she was sacrificed by her father in order to gain favorable winds for the army to sail back from Troy. The Goddess Diane descended on a cable. Seconds later she and Iphigénie gracefully ascended until they vanished from sight. Then music; momentarily calm and sweet in D major.

More than simply detailing the back story, Wadsworth helped us to feel these events from the past in the present. When the storm music in the opening orchestral passage broke we were reminded of the winds that motivated the dream-like sacrifice we had just witnessed.

There is no overture to this opera. The opera opens with the opposite of an overture. Susan Graham, as Iphigénie, sang her opening lines; "Grands dieux! soyez-nous secourables!" within the energy of the storm itself. This production made an important distinction: this is no ordinary musical is a storm of emotions.

Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride is an opera immersed in the darkest psychology of guilt, mourning, and the trappings of unfolding consequences. Emotion and its opposite: fate.

The intensity of the emotional states required a patient, slow unfolding that, in perfection, would hover just north of boredom. Wadsworth kept us in the right places without distracting from an essential stillness. Yet he also interjected fascinating projections, presented a ghostly visitation by Clytemnestre who is able to magically embrace both her children from within a barrier wall, and he also silently re-enacted the family murders that torment Orestes and Iphigénie.

"Perhaps more complicated than the plot of our opera today is the health of the Met singers," said Met General Manager Peter Gelb in a special announcement just moments before the Live in HD transmission started. "Both Ms. Graham and Mr. Domingo have been suffering from bad colds...[but] they are bravely soldiering on. However, the occasional cough from the audience might be supplemented by one or two from the stage."

One would never have guessed that Graham was working against a cold. Her voice was clear and still flexible as it came pouring into the movie theater. One could hear interference in Domingo's voice, but it was still a pleasure to hear him sing this role. Tenor Paul Groves, apparently healthy and singing Pylade, was also able to convince with effective and lovely lyrical colors in his voice.

The act two ballet/pantomime of the furies was done without dancing or pantomime. Orestes is not supposed to be able to see these furies, they torment him on a purely psychological dimension. But we are supposed to be able to see them; and we did not because Wadsworth chose to have the music sung off-stage while we focused on Orestes. This unnecessary inactivity made the second act seem too long.

Yet, I found it curious that the chorus 'Contemplez Ces Tristes Apprets' was not played just before the close of the second act. It is gorgeous music and was cut. In this sense intermission also came too soon.

Conductor Patrick Summers took quick tempos that produced a buoyant quality. He took the act one aria for Iphigénie: "O Toi, Qui Prolongeas Mes Jours," at such a quick tempo that the music felt like a dance. Graham benefited from these tempi and was able to shape phrases with delicious rhythmic delicacies.

Graham and Domingo had great chemistry and the third and fourth acts further intensified as a result of their ability to interact. When Diane descended from the rafters to call the action of the opera to a close it felt balanced and strangely logical.

Iphigénie en Tauride is an opera where all the main characters escape alive; where there is no comedy at all, no romantic entanglements, no courtesan, no seductress, no masks. It is an opera about the opposite of opera.

But this opposite attracted.

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