Last night we saw the first opera in our Chicago Lyric Opera season, Glück’s Iphigénie en Tauride.
Considered to be one of Glück’s masterpieces, Iphigénie inspired and informed both Mozart and Wagner who each adapted the work for concert performance. It’s an artistic triumph, anticipating Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, a great unity of lyrics and music. It eliminates the aria and dry recitative format that predominated in Italian opera of the time replacing them with something that more closely resembles continuous melody.
Glück’s singing pupil, Marie Antoinette, wrote this of the work to her sister, Maria Cristina Josepha:
“…What a great triumph, my dear Cristina! …I was captivated by it and can talk of nothing else. Everyone is enormously excited as a result of the event. It is incredible how many arguments and disputes are raging, as if it were some religious controversy. At court…people take sides and there are lively discussions about it, while in the city the criticism is even more intense…”
Last night’s performance was dominated by the superb vocal performances. The young cast, lead by Susan Graham as Iphigénie, Lucas Meachem as Oreste, and Paul Groves as Pylade, sang with precision, strength, and verve. Susan Graham was a particular stand-out. Her Iphigénie was simply sublime. The part is quite difficult with a rather high tessitura for a mezzo. More a soprano part, really.
I thought the physical acting was rather overwrought and stylized, qualities particularly accentuated by the minimalist, all-black set and costumes. I had mixed feelings about the minimalist production. On the one hand it placed the emphasis, rightly, on the music. But on the other hand the plot is rather static and the music while wonderful, well, you don’t exactly walk out of the theater humming the melodies. Some other interest really is needed and they weren’t to be found in the sets or costuming.
Overall an excellent production. A recording of this cast would be welcome.