How is this possible, I ask you: there is only one surviving recording of Gluck’s Iphighénie en Aulide, this JE Gardiner-conducted, Monteverdi Choir and Opera de Lyon CD published in 1991 by an obscure label. I spent the afternoon at the library listening to this gem (which it is not only because of its scarcity), with the help of the vocal/piano score. I was reminded of this little performed opera when I discovered that Anne Sofie von Otter debuts the role of Clytemnestre in Amsterdam in September this year. (Yes, that fills her self-imposed quota of no more than three operas per year.) The fate will have it that the Clytemnestra of the one existing recording is also von Otter’s, a ridiculously gloriously young-voiced von Otter, though she’s never sung the role on stage since.
This will be the repeat of the 2009 production of Aulide directed by Pierre Audi, first seen in La Monnaie in Brussels, but instead of Christophe Rousset, Marc Minkowski conducting. Véronique Gens will remain in the title role. There are some good production and rehearsal photos in the archives of La Monnaie over here. Judging by the photos, militarism and nationalism are on the receiving end of a spank, and the setting is contemporary. Iphighénie and her mother wear full (if stylized for femininity) combat uniforms, and Iphighénie gets to revert to her doomed wedding gown only when she is about to be sacrificed.
Charlotte Hellekant and Gens in the original production
It’s a small role, Clytemnestre, darnit, although she is on the stage a lot, recitative-ing and part of the action. The tenor role of Achilles, Iphigenie’s pretend-betrothed, and the baritone Agamemnon, along with the soprano title role, are the main characters. Clytemnestre gets something like 3.5 arias. One is the glorious shorty “Armez-vous d’un noble courage” which has no narrative purpose whatever (in it, after the two women have been waiting a little too long in the lurch, Clytemnestre erroneously concludes that Achilles dumped her daughter without anybody bothering to tell her, and that she should keep her chin up and forget the bastard). Musically, it’s a blast. Gardiner played it fast and furious, and Otter’s runs reach the heights of A1 at one point (thank you, music score). In act 2, there’s a more standard weepie “Par un père cruel”, and then later the role’s pièce de résistance, the “Ma fille, je la vois” which turns vengeful and fast with ‘”Jupiter, lance la foudre”.
There’s a Chorus of Lesbian Slaves in the opera! I mean, more literally translated, Chorus of the Captured and Enslaved Women from Lesbos, which Achilles apparently picked up in one of his conquests. Or was it another hero? All the same, the music is sweet and ends with a vivacious violin solo air, so I wonder what the director will do with that particular episode.
People within reach of Amsterdam will see this in September.
In other Otter news…
Her former label DG released jointly with Decca (I think both are now owned by Universal, non?) a series of CDs which could be summed up as “Opera stars singing the composer they’re best known for”. Thence, Anne Sofie von Otter singt Händel CD, everything on which is already available on other CDs. I am assuming the target audience are not Otter fanatics who already have this music, but some hypothetical potential new converts. So, let’s chalk it under that, and turn our attention to Naive. Berlioz? Winterreise? Chants d’Auvergne? What’s shakin’, Naive?
And I’ll conclude with this.
Apparently… Von Otter will make her cinematic debut in a small American indie. (I know, right?!) IF–and that is a big IF–this film ever gets released. A Late Quartet has been “in post-production” for a long while; there have been some changes in principal casting, and now it’s settled on indie royalty Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Says the blurb on IMDB: “Follows four members of a world-renowned string quartet who struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and insuppressible lust.” I am guessing Otter’s role (Miriam) is either a star walk-on or cameo type thing (maybe she sings?! plays an opera diva?) but still, I WISH THIS WAS RELEASED ALREADY. Also, what if the role ends up on the cutting room floor–eg. the NYT’s database cast list does not include Otter’s name. See, there are so many known unknowns about this film that I refuse to get excited. I am going to play it cool. I don’t care about it at all, really.