What the Gluck

In preparation for the opening of the COC season, I got hold of the Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble recording of Gluck’Iphigénie en Tauride with Mireille Delunsch as Iphigenia and Simon Keenlyside as Orestes.  A few things jump out on the first listening:

— This is probably among the slowest operas in the repertoire. Musically, it’s mostly a lento affair with the occasional brief outburst of drama. (There are a few quick duets and trios that are highly dramatical, surrounded by a sea of slow, continuous lamenting–by Iphigenia, by Orestes, by Pylades, by the Priestesses, and any combination thereof). Dramatically, not a whole lot happens. Iphigenia, who is now a priestess in a foreign land, must follow the local custom and sacrifice the two shipwrecked Greek strangers. She’d rather not, as one of them reminds her of her brother. It turns out he is her brother. In order to avoid the final slaughter when the locals discover Iphigenia’s neglect of duty, dea ex machina appears and saves the siblings. Curtain. The time for the most part is filled by the principals’ bemoaning their fate. Due to all this, a boring staging needs to be avoided like a plague.

– The music is not terribly complex, and sometimes feels like Mozart who couldn’t be bothered. I don’t have the musicological wherewithal to analyze why, but I never get that while listening to Rameau, for example, who composed roughly in the same period: that I’m hearing something that somebody else since (or before) had developed more fully. Maybe that’s the problem with the progressivist view of music; those who are considered the ‘bridging figures’ get read by both the lay and expert audiences in light of what came after. I don’t know. Something I pondered inconclusively while Iphigenia was saying her looong goodbye to the vaguely familiar Greek stranger: why is it that while I listen to Rameau I never find myself thinking, this is derivative of that, and this reminds of that which led to that, but I do while listening to this opera and some other works of this era.

Tauride is, unusually, without the romantic intrigue at its centre. That is, without the straight romantic intrigue. Gay men shouldn’t miss this one: the love between Orestes and Pylades is fundamental to the story, and remains a source of drama till the end (We’ll die together; united at least! Er… they want to separate us? Well, then, I’ll die. No I’ll die, you go to Greece. No, you go to Greece. Etc.)

– Unlike Aulide, Tauride has been recorded quite a bit. This Zurich version by William Christie is actually available on YT (until when, we’ll see. For now go here).

Meanwhile, across the ocean, DeNederlandse Opera is opening its two Iphigenias this week (I wrote about Aulide recently). The trailer looks very good.  Happy beginning of the season, everybody!

Edited to add:

Here’s a nice post-prima video that the DeNederlandse just released. “It’s difficult to describe the music of Gluck,” says Minkowski. “It’s a carrefour, a mix of a lot of influences. The music is noble, simple, expressive, sometimes academic, sometimes naive, but always with maximum of purity to go directly to the soul.”

8 thoughts on “What the Gluck

  1. I’ll look forward to reading your take on the performance. I enjoyed it at the Met last season, largely because of Susan Graham’s predictable vocal solidity and unexpected dramatic intensity in the title role. Also, Placido Domingo singing a role that fit his voice! (Ahem, mild snarkiness, sorry.) What did you make of Keenlyside’s Oreste? I imagine that his ability to communicate anguish through the voice would be a great asset in the role, but I’ve never heard him in repertoire this early.

  2. Is it the same production? (We are one ocean-locked continent, aren’t we) Now I want to reread your review. Or perhaps better wait until I see the thing myself. It’s all those long hair wigs that worry me a bit.

    Keenlyside was his usual reliable self–though I thought his voice had a shade of light at moments. Is there such a thing as a light-coloured baritone? I tend to like baritones as a matter of course and tend to find faults with tenors as a matter of course (prejudice, but I’m working on it), so a baritone would have to be really faulty for me to get irked by it. You heard him live and in recordings, and could probably characterize Keenly’s timbre and ‘voice engine’ precisely. Now that I think about it, I think I’m measuring every bari-timbre against Bryn Terfel’s. Sigh.

    1. No, the Met’s production is Stephen Wadsworth. I think one could speak of “shades of light” (an elegant paradox) in Keenlyside’s voice, though I’m quite sure I couldn’t characterize his timbre precisely. He’s excellent, I think, in lyric roles and lieder, but there’s a focus (if that’s the word I want) to the voice that helps in heavier roles, even if they’re not as natural a fit. And his expressive use of text is impressive in four languages. In short, I like him! Comparing bari-timbres to Bryn Terfel is a tendency from which I am not immune.🙂 Russell Braun should be a treat, though (I hope); I was very impressed with his Olivier in Capriccio… and his Chou En-Lai, come to that.

    1. It’ll be Graham for me, but we’ll see about later on.

      Reading that interview in which she talks about her faith, I keep wondering when is it that publicists start curtailing such atypical talk in rising star singers. Because I’m sure they do. “Look, sweetie, your God talk will put off so many people… Reign it in, will you.”

      1. Good point. I was touched that she seemed so thoughtful about it… and had a good chuckle about her friend needling her using “her vocabulary.” Hopefully she will be able to rise as she deserves, with or despite publicists.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s