Monday February 21, 2011 - Gluck's masterpiece IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE has been revived at The Met this season. It's one of the Met's finest productions (Ken Howard photo, above), dating from 2007. Tonight Eizabeth Bishop replaced Susan Graham as Iphigenie; Paul Groves as Pylade and Placido Domingo as Oreste (below, in a Ken Howard photo).
IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE
Christoph Willibald Gluck-Nicolas-François Guillard
First Priestess.........Lei Xu
Second Priestess........Cecelia Hall
Scythian Minister.......David Won
The opera recounts the story of Iphigenie, the preseumed-dead daughter of Agamemnon, being reunited with her brother Oreste and her recognition of her sibling as she is about to sacrifice him on the altar of Diana. The second plot thread weaves around the love of Oreste and Pylade - the Met's production steers well clear of any graphic depiction of homosexual passion which fascinated viewers when Glimmerglass/New York City Opera staged the work in 1997; however, one would not really want to see Paul Groves and Placido Domingo in skimpy loincloths, caressing one another...so the Met's more prim and stately depiction of their relationship serves the singers well.
Groves and Domingo (the latter now in his 70s) sang with boldly-projected voices tonight though Groves now lacks some of the honeyed sweetness of sound that made him so memorable in the role in 2007; and Domingo has to put more effort into producing the voice though it is still tonally firm, Met-sized and utterly distinctive.
Baritone Gordon Hawkins was a popular Met singer in the late 80s-early 90s (he last sang with the Company in 1992). He is back now as Thoas, his voice powerful but the vibrato having loosened considerably. I'd love to have heard David Won in this role, but he instead remains cast as the Scythian Minister. Julie Boulianne is an attractive, well-sung Diane; like so many gods over the millennia, she is a day late and a dollar short when she finally appears to put an end to the blood-letting and torture that have been carried on in her name. But at least she does finally check in, looking dishy into the bargain.
From her opening lines it was clear that Elizabeth Bishop was much more than a mere fill-in for Susan Graham. Bishop sang with a strong sense of dramatic urgency and her forte notes in the upper range rang out into the House with authority. Her voice does not have the seductive aural sheen that Susan Graham's does, and Bishop is less successful than her more famous colleague in maneuvering the voice thru the high-lying phrases of the great aria 'O malhereuse Iphigenie', though she made a touching impression here despite. Basically this is a soprano role and both singers are mezzos; while I had looked forward to hearing Graham tonight, I very much enjoyed and was impressed by Ms. Bishop.
Patrick Summers was on the podium and his interpretation seemed more generalized and not quite as haunting as that of Louis Langree who led the work in 2007. The score abounds in music that is poignant, majestic and quirky (the rhythmic dance-tune-march of the Sythians) by turns, and the Met orchestra played it very well indeed.