|Andrew Stenson and Ying Fang (photo by Marty Sohl)|
The production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide was so outstanding we do not know whom to credit first. Undeniably, conductor Jane Glover had a hand in it, or should we say "two hands" as she used them in balletic fashion to guide Juilliard415 (Juilliard's period-instrument orchestra) through Gluck's lean expressive score. From the very first theme of the overture, heard at key moments later in the opera, we knew we were in good hands. We want to call her Jane Goodhands, no "gloves" necessary.
Gluck can be said to have revolutionized opera in the mid 18th c. By eliminating many excesses of the baroque, he paved the way for Mozart's genius. By selecting libretti with authenticity of emotion, psychological insight, and sincere simplicity, he engages the listener who can examine his or her own predicaments and find resonant parallels. Who has not struggled with desires that conflict with duties? In this case, the libretto by du Roullet was based on the Racine play of 1674. The opera premiered in 1774 in Paris.
Still, it is the singers themselves that carry the opera and we found the performances to be beyond criticism. Each and every singer, drawn from the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and Juilliard Opera, was astutely cast, vocally perfect and dramatically affecting. Were it not for the unexpected happy ending (unexpected because we had not read the synopsis beforehand) we would have gone home in tears. Thankfully, due to the intervention of the goddess Diane, the innocent Iphegénie gets to live and to marry her beloved Achille.
Soprano Ying Fang made a perfect Iphegénie, using her expressive limpid voice, face and body to convey the nobility of character that enables her to express both despair over losing her young life and submission to her fate as a sacrifice. At one point, convinced that Achille had been unfaithful (a ruse), she summoned up quite a lot of outrage.
Similarly, her intended husband Achille, as performed by tenor Andrew Stenson, conveyed rage at Agamemnon, tender love and protectiveness toward his bride and also had to exhibit outrage at being falsely accused of infidelity. He accomplished all this without compromising his warm appealing tone.
As the conflicted Agamemnon, baritone Yunpeng Wang limned the character of a man torn between love for his daughter and duty to the gods who demanded the sacrifice. Mr. Wang has a round sturdy baritone that can sound authoritative when necessary to control others, angry when confronting the recalcitrant gods and yet tender when thinking of his child.
Mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez was stunning as the mother Clytemnestre. She has a true rich mezzo sound with a great deal of depth. In the closest thing to a mad scene that one might see in a pre-19th c. opera, she nearly loses it in her rage at her husband--all without losing her magnificent phrasing and tone. At her entrance she is all regal dignity and it was upsetting yet understandable to watch her decline into near madness as she wished to substitute her life for her daughter's.
As the high priest Calchas, bass-baritone Brandon Cedel demonstrated why he has been winning prizes everywhere. His lordly tones expressed the matter-of-fact information that Iphegénie must be sacrificed. It was in different tones that he announced toward the end of the opera that the goddess Diane had arrived.
As Achille's friend Patrocle, baritone Takaoki Onishi gave his usually fine performance, lending truth to the saying in the theater world that "There are no small roles".
All of the singers mentioned so far are familiar to us as we have watched their growth from one year to the next. But last night we heard two singers for the first time and enjoyed their performances enormously. Serbian bass Sava Vemić made a fine showing as Arcas, Agamemnon's lieutenant who is responsible for conveying messages important to the plot. His rich substantial sound made us want to hear more of him. As Diane, soprano Liv Redpath had the enviable role of the "deus ex machina" making everyone happy. It will make us happy to hear her again.
As Three Greek Women, Angela Vallone, Kara Sainz and Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill made a fine showing as well.
Although billed as a "concert version" the young artists, performing onstage in front of the musicians, acted up a storm. The only features missing were costumes and sets; we never missed them due to the persuasive acting and fine singing. David Paul directed the enterprise, a collaboration of The Metropolitan Opera and The Juilliard School.
Finally, let us not forget to mention the fine French diction. Even the chorus, positioned on the sides and at the rear of the orchestra made the language comprehensible. There is only one more performance on Saturday at 2:00. Miss this at your own peril. Don't say we didn't tell you!
(c) meche kroop