Iphigénie en Tauride, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2016Posted on 6 March 2016
In Greek tradition, Iphigenia was sacrificed so the gods would supply her father King Agamemnon with a wind to sail his becalmed fleet against Troy. Euripides tackled the subject in Iphigenia at Aulis, followed later by Iphigenia in Tauris, the basis for this Gluck opera in which Artemis — here called Diana — has already replaced Princess Iphigenia with a deer and magically transported her to the land of the Taurians, where King Thoas assigns her the duty of ritually sacrificing foreigners who arrive on the shores of his realm.
The music is glorious, arguably the finest of any opera by Gluck, that great composer who stands at the post-baroque transition to classical opera. In this work he eschews the ballet-divertissements that were a feature of French opera at the time, and after we hear the agony of Iphigenia — recovering from a nightmare where her mother kills her father and she is forced to kill her brother Orestes — the action takes us through a range of human emotions until the moment when her priestesses compel her to kill one of the two captured intruders, and her strength fails her.
The recognition scene of brother and sister is affectingly portrayed in James Conway’s new production, which counterbalances the heavenly music with more earthy scenes of prisoner abuse. In the end Orestes’ fellow prisoner and beloved companion Pylades returns, and the king is killed, as the oracle foretold if he failed to kill all visitors to his shores. Finally Diana enters — in this production as a child — to bring redemption and command the barbarians to honour her laws.
As Iphigenia herself, Catherine Carby sang beautifully with fine French diction, her voice and portrayal bringing out the agony of her position, well supported by her bloodstained ladies, notably Susanna Fairbairn and Samantha Hay. Open-hearted singing from baritone Grant Doyle as a noble Orestes, and tenor John-Colyn Gyeantey sang lyrically as his companion Pylades, delivering a fine Act III aria about saving his beloved friend. Craig Smith added suitable anxiety as a distraught King Thoas, and after a swirl of emotional distress the stirring hymn to the gods by the full chorus at the end was sheer joy.
All very ably conducted by Martin André, bringing clarity to this marvellous 1779 opera that lies beyond the baroque tradition, paving the way for later composers like Wagner, who took inspiration from the great Gluck.
Performances continue at the following venues: Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 16th Mar; Lighthouse, Poole, 19th Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 23rd Mar; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 5th Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 9th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 15th Apr; Buxton Opera House, 22nd Apr; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 29th Apr; The Hawth, Crawley, 5th May; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 7th May; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 9th May; Grand Theatre Blackpool, 13th May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 17th May; Exeter Northcott Theatre, 27th May; Curve, Leicester, 1st June — for details click here.