Iphigénie en Aulide. Iphigénie en Tauride
Marc Minkowski, cond; Véronique Gens (
); Anne Sophie von Otter (
); Frédéric Antouin (
); Nicolas Teste (
); Christian Helmer (
); Mireille Delunsch (
); Yann Beuron (
); Jean-François Lapointe (
); Laurent Alvaro (
); Netherlands Opera Ch; Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble
OPUS ARTE 7115 (Blu-ray: 267:00) Live: Amsterdam 9/2011
Of Gluck’s two operas devoted to the character of Iphigénie, it is the latter one that has the overwhelming lion’s share of performances and recordings. I have long found that regrettable; while there is no question for me that
Iphigénie en Tauride
is Gluck’s greatest operatic masterwork,
Iphigénie en Aulide
is a marvelous work in its own right that deserves far better than benign neglect. I have sometimes wondered if, somewhat paradoxically,
is slighted because its dramaturgy is somewhat more conventional than that of Gluck’s other major “reform” operas, with its frustrated young lovers, parents of divided sympathies, and so forth. However, this also allows Gluck to employ a more varied musical palette, as he has four major roles in different voice ranges (plus a crucial fifth supporting role) instead of only two or three.
It is therefore a very good thing indeed to have these two operas, whose plots have a fine formal dramatic continuity, brought together in a single set, even if the results are rather mixed. To deliver the bad news first, the production—as one necessarily expects from the Netherlands Opera—is yet another example of the blight of
. That said, it is thankfully one that is simply jejune rather than offensive. The set consists of two sets of metal bleachers facing one another, on which the characters clamber up and down, or else stand in between them; the majority of personnel are clad in rumpled trenchcoats, generic military uniforms, or leisure suits. (I was first exposed to the bleachers-and-trenchcoats conceit almost 25 years ago at the Oper Unter den Linden in what was then East Berlin, though I suspect that the straitened finances of a collapsing communist economy, rather than any great desire to promote avant-garde aesthetics, were responsible for its use in numerous productions there.) It all looks done on the cheap, though it probably cost an absurd amount of money. There are a few additional silly twists to this drab spectacle as well. Once Iphigénie (in
) is named to be a sacrificial victim to the gods, she appears wearing a suicide bomb belt with an X painted on her forehead, while the minor character of Arcas is the obligatory half-naked hunk in skin-tight pants.
Fortunately, the stage direction largely ignores the costumes and for once has the characters interact in entirely appropriate ways—no orgies, or oral sex, or groping, or armed figures murdering people
, etc., etc. The singers seize the opportunity and, particularly in
, give intense, even riveting performances that make one forget the dreary sets and garments and focus instead upon the characters and their respective plights. In
, they are for some reason given much less with which to work, and consequently its dramatic voltage is significantly lower.
There is a very similar split in the musical values, with those for
being very high, and for
somewhat lower. Conductor Marc Minkowski has dedicated himself to promoting the operas of Gluck, and he leads both performances with searing intensity and passion. Compared to Minkowski, John Eliot Gardiner in his 1990 studio recording of
for Erato—until now the only available recording of Gluck’s original score, as opposed to Wagner’s adaptation of it—is correct but somewhat staid. Véronique Gens is a superb Iphigénie, more characterful and potent than Lynne Dawson is for Gardiner, capturing every one of her character’s tormented twists and turns between hope, joy, resignation, and despair. Frédéric Antouin is her worthy partner as Achille, offering impassioned singing in the gleaming tones of a full-bodied lyric tenor. He too is superior to John Aler, his able counterpart under Gardiner. As Clytemnestre, Anne Sophie von Otter reprises her previous assumption of the role for Gardiner. If her voice is not quite as fresh as it was over 20 years before, it remains a remarkably fine instrument; she shows virtually none of the unsteadiness in her top notes that slightly marred her otherwise excellent recording of Swedish songs I reviewed in 36:3, and she has if anything deepened her conception of her role. Nicolas Teste is likewise an excellent Agamemnon, who makes his almost schizophrenic character highly sympathetic and holds his own in comparison with José van Dam under Gardiner. Christian Helmer is an effective Calchas, if not ideally steady vocally and inferior to Gilles Cachemaille under Gardiner. In the
roles, Laurent Alvaro pushes his voice too hard as Thoas, but Martijn Cornet is a decent Patrocle. Salomé Haller is a competent but not arresting Diane in both operas.
There is only one reason I do not give this
Iphigénie en Aulide
an unqualified endorsement over Gardiner’s CD set as the version of choice; whereas both conductors cut the ballet music that Gluck recycled for his
, Minkowski also makes further cuts in two choral sections that remove an additional 15 minutes or so of music. Perhaps he believed that to be a painful necessity due to the presentation of both operas in a single evening, but it is greatly to be regretted.
Iphigénie en Tauride
is presented intact. Here my standard of comparison is the other performance of this opera on DVD, the 2000 performance from Zurich under William Christie. I am in near total agreement with James Camner’s review of it in 30:3, being only even more enthusiastic about Christie’s conducting and less so about Anton Scharinger’s singing as Thoas. While the giant bobble-head costumes used in that
production are indeed ludicrous, I will grudgingly concede that the pseudo-Freudian conceit behind them has more to offer both visually and conceptually than the drab, sterile setting saddled upon Minkowski, and hence makes for relatively more compelling drama. Also, while three of the four principal singers here are quite solid (those being Mireille Delunsch, Yann Beuron, and Jean-François Lapointe), they all are markedly inferior to Juliette Galstien, Deon van der Walt, and Rodney Gilfrey, their counterparts under Christie, with Galstien and Gilfrey in particular being outstanding in every way, and Alvaro’s wobbly Thoas is a marked liability for Minkowski.
There is a supplemental feature, lasting 38 minutes, on the creation of the two opera productions. Since they come together as a pair, my counsel is to get this for the superb
despite the cuts, and tolerate or ignore the
James A. Altena