Iphigénie en Tauride
- Opera Atelier
- At the Elgin Theatre
- in Toronto on Saturday
Sometimes second thoughts are better. Opera Atelier has made some changes to its 2003 production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride , softening some of director Marshall Pynkoski's more provocative angles and strengthening its overall presentation of this important sung drama.
The opera is one of several 18th-century treatments of stories from Euripides about the later adventures of Agamemnon's daughter, who escaped her father's sacrificial knife with help from the goddess Diana. In the opera, her main trial is having to decide what to do about two countrymen who wash up on her island of exile, where the custom is to slaughter all Greeks at the altar.
The opera is practically an anthology of Gluck's best music, as he no doubt realized while plundering many previous works to give Parisians an opera they wouldn't forget. So it was especially gratifying to hear so much care and good taste in conductor Andrew Parrott's direction of the score. There were very few rough corners in his performance with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir. More often, he made a strong supporting case for Gluck's melodic intuition and dramatic flair.
Some of my favourite moments came during the recitatives, especially when soprano Peggy Kriha Dye (Iphigénie) was singing. It's easy to let these sparsely accompanied, text-heavy segments slip by without making much impact, but Dye put a meaningful curve into almost every phrase. Her bright lirico spinto got the opera off to a beautiful start in her intense first aria, which seemed to sail partly on the energy of the vivid orchestral storm that preceded it. She also did a lovely job in the opera's loveliest aria, a smoothly rolling pastoral number in which Iphigénie reflects (somewhat incongruously) on her family's destruction.
As her brother Oreste (one of the Greeks, whose identity comes out as the knife is literally poised overhead), tenor Kresimir Spicer made a very robust showing in a role usually sung by a baritone. At times his powerful voice and aggressive presentation was almost too much, as if he were a verismo figure, coming to put some real blood and guts into this refined piece. But his quiet lament, upon being separated from his companion Pylade (tenor Thomas MacLeay), was aptly understated, and lit that way by Kevin Fraser, who doused the roving, various lights used in other scenes and isolated Spicer in a nearly vertical spot.
Pynkoski's 2003 production cast Oreste and Pylades as gay lovers, obliterating the opera's rarer notions of sentimental male friendship between soldier-comrades who would happily die for each other. The revival focuses on their emotional bond and leaves everything else to the imagination - always the site of the best opera effects.
MacLeay has an attractive voice, but seemed a little bland in delivery, perhaps because Spicer was so much larger than life. Bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre sounded rough and unfocused as Thoas, especially in his poorly pitched recitatives. Smaller roles were handled reasonably well by mezzo-soprano Cassandra Warner (the Priestess, whose final tear across the stage looked like a caricature of Pynkoski's sometimes overwrought movement direction), soprano Ambur Braid (Diana, getting everyone out of the soup yet again) and bass-baritone Curtis Sullivan (a blunt but effective Minister).
I can't say much about the choir, because I was sitting so close to the women (in a left forward balcony), that I had trouble hearing them as a collective. They remained offstage for the entire piece, leaving the physical commentary to the 15 dancers of the Atelier Ballet. This is a dance-heavy production, and while some scenes benefited from the men's leaps and fighting movements (directed by Jennifer Parr), much of Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg's choreography looked tired and generic. The languid decorous turns of the women, and their invariably floppy ports de bras, offered nothing to support the strong evocative sounds coming from the pit.
Dora Rust D'Eye's costuming glittered as usual, and Gerard Gauci's set design imposed a rather airless vision of classical order on a piece driven by the heart's anguished conflicts with duty and law. At times, the plot of this opera can seem like a contest in misery, though the music is anything but.
Opera Atelier's production of Iphigénie en Tauride continues through Saturday.