In preparation for the opening of the COC season, I got hold of the Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble recording of Gluck’s 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.)
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.”