Magazine article The Spectator

Great Gluck

Magazine article The Spectator

Great Gluck

Article excerpt

Welsh National Opera's Iphigenie en Tauride is not quite such a triumph as their Carmen, but it is nonetheless the finest performance of an opera by Gluck that I have seen for many years.

The production team is the same as Carmen's, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, but while they have a complete grasp of the point of that work, and have realised it in great detail together with the performers, they seem, like everyone else at the present time, to be somewhat at a loss when confronted with classical subjects. Clearly intent on avoiding a toga and laurel-wreath ambience, they have done the same kind of thing as - indeed, since this production is five years old, may have to take some of the blame for - the ENO in Orpheus. Drabness is the order of the day, the clothes of all the characters reminiscent of BBC Television documentaries about the North of England from the Fifties. With no scenery apart from a chair which appears a few times, and very little chromatic lighting, the atmosphere is suggestive of depression rather than fate.

However, the musical performance, dominated by Diana Montague's tormented Iphigenie, is not hampered by the staging, though it would be nice if it had been helped. Montague has developed in the role strikingly since she recorded it with Gardiner. She will never be an heroic soprano, but her voice is now larger, she declaims with more force; and she conveys desperation without resorting to unmusical means. Only in her prayer to Diana in Act I did she and the conductor Steven Sloane combine, by dint of choppy phrasing and a too-rapid tempo, to deprive this most moving of Gluck's heroines of her dignity in pain. Earlier she had made her first entry, that magnificent riding of the orchestral storm, in the grand manner, and as soon as she had Oreste and Pylade to deal with she recaptured and maintained it.

The singers who play the parts of the two friends, the most affecting in operatic literature, make a first-rate vocal team, even if there is something slightly incongruous about their heights. In the central scene where Iphigenie has to choose one of them to be sacrificed, their competitiveness in wanting to be the victim is wholly credible, and mercifully expressed with an intensity which shows that they have no anxieties about being thought anachronistically ardent. There is no weak member of the cast, just as there is no weak music in the sublime work. If anything, the passage where Oreste sings of calm returning to his heart, while the orchestra shows it isn't, is the least conspicuous passage; though it is certainly the one most referred to. …

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