Iphigénie en Tauride, Gluck

The Metropolitan Opera

2nd March, 2011

Middle of the Range

Gluck’s score of Iphigénie en Tauride is balsamic. Euripides’ subject matter could not be more torrid, but somehow the score’s patina coats the surface of drama, as if seeking to soothe the pain of generations with its divine lyricism and lullaby lilt.

If the opera is to succeed, then, in drawing the audience into the back-story in a way which will lead them to experience eventual healing, they must first experience tension. At least one element, whether musical, visual or dramatic, must provide the needle which is to lance the metaphorical boil.

 The Met’s current production by Stephen Wadsworth, premiered in 2007 with the same three lead singers, Susan Graham (Iphigénie), Plácido Domingo (Oreste), and Paul Groves (Pylade), would have made audiences in the 1950’s very comfortable.  Far from bringing the dramatic interactions to life, Wadsworth chose instead to create stilted tableaux, apparently prioritizing a visual effect.  Whilst the design and the characters’ poses evoked the beauty of a Caravaggio painting, the execution lacked imagination.  The result was indistinguishable from a mediocre, traditional opera production, replete with outmoded operatic gesture. 

The wash of Thomas Lynch’s orange earth-toned set spread beyond the stage and infiltrated the pit, where Patrick Summers conducted the drowsy Met Orchestra through a performance lacking in rhythmic impulse, crispness and dynamic contrast.  Whether through lack of concentration or a misunderstanding of the singers’ intentions throughout their recitatives, Mr. Summers regularly created unstylistic discordance, apparently insensitive to harmonic timing. 

Video courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

Susan Graham’s lyric mezzo was most effective in Iphigénie’s recitatives, which  lie within the  richest part of her range.  Unfortunately, the truly transcendent moments within the role occur in the arias, which dwell for extended periods in a higher vocal register.  The necessity for flexibility and a prayer-like serenity during Iphigénie’s contemplative passages are what mark this as a soprano role.  The singer’s voice should be at its most beautiful in these moments, and be able to perch comfortably above the stave for extended periods. Ms Graham “managed” her top register, but could not be described as comfortable there.

Plácido Domingo brings vitality, charisma and passion to a stage which desperately needs it.  Oreste lies ideally within Domingo’s newly adjusted vocal range, and he creates a showpiece from a role which was not necessarily written as such, through pure, big-hearted yet refined musical expression.

Paul Groves sang with clarion mastery, masking a technique which is beautiful in itself behind a lyrical elegance which seemed effortless. 

Bottom line: No bark, but no bite.


Mwyn Bengough


response to this review: response@operaticus.com

Production Credits

Conductor - Patrick Summers
Director - Stephen Wadsworth
Set Designer - Thomas Lynch
Costumes - Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting - Neil Peter Jampolis
Choreographer - Daniel Pelzig


Iphigénie - Susan Graham
Pylade - Paul Groves
Oreste - Plácido Domingo
Thoas - Gordon Hawkins
Diane - Julie Boulianne
First Priestess - Lei Xu
Second Priestess - Cecelia Hall
A Scythian Minister - David Won

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS PRODUCTION:http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/