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Friday, February 4, 2011

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Iphigénie en Tauride

Susan Graham and Placìdo Domingo in Stephen Wadsworth's production of Iphegénie en Tauride.
Photo by Ken Howard. © 2008 The Metropolitan Opera
One of the unexpected trends at the Peter Gelb Met has been a renewed interest in the operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck, the masterful German composer who standardized the forms of French opera in the 18th century.

Gluck's work stands at the beginning of the Classical period, when the flourishes of baroque opera were rejected in favor of a strict reliance on musical forms and the fusion of words and music to make a dramatic whole. The classical ideas of Gluck would influence many composers that followed: from Mozart, to Berlioz to Richard Wagner.

Iphigénie is one of the composer's most sophisticated, powerful creations, a tragédie-lyrique that crackles with nervous tension as it veers toward a (potentially) bloody climax. Susan Graham sings the title role--the daughter of the Greek king Agamemnon who is transported by the Gods to the land of Tauris (now the Crimea.) There, she is drafted into the priesthood, and ordered to sacrifice anyone who comes ashore.

The next victim? Her own brother, Orestes.

Oh, and Orestes is played by 70-year old super-tenor Placìdo Domingo, which alone makes this revival worth seeing.

Recordings Overview:

This opera has been surprisingly well-served on disc.

Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala cond. Riccardo Muti (Sony)
Iphigénie: Carol Vaness
Orest: Thomas Allen
Pylade: Gosta Winbergh
This just-reissued set features the control-freak conducting of Riccardo Muti, leading his La Scala forces in a large-scale approach to Gluck's tragedy. Recently reissued as part of the Sony Opera House series.

Boston Baroque cond. Martin Pearlman (Telarc)
Iphegénie: Christine Goerke
Orest: Rodney Gilfry
Pylade: Vinson Cole
This was the first recording of this opera on "period" instruments. This is a stellar cast, with Goerke and Gilfry veterans of John Eliot Gardiner's excellent Mozart opera recordings.

Les Musiciens de Louvre cond. Marc Minkowski (DG Archiv)
Iphegenie: Mireille Delunsch
Orest: Simon Keenlyside
Pylade: Yan Beuron
Period instrument precision and authentic French stylings are the order of the day in this impressive installment in Marc Minkowski's survey of Gluck operas. Minkowski takes a go-for-the-throat approach that is entirely suited to this intense drama.

Iphegénie en Tauride opens on Feb. 12.

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