Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Malheureuse Iphegenie, Tres heureux Maury

There we all were 24 hours earlier saying rather (pronounced "rah-ther" for effect) uncharitable things about a perfect Tabarro Giorgetta who flew, nu, a little too near the sun. Who was to know that 24 hours back this way, a lucky some of us would be transported to the place where there are no jokes to be made. Not from suffering, you understand, but from dumb joy at having ears and eardrums issued with them.

Can I pull that trick that always made me throw bricks at the tube when they did it on Alias? You know, Sydney's about to jump out of a plane and the door opens and they play that sul ponticello tremolo of danger and the screen goes black and it says:

Twelve hours earlier...

Twelve hours earlier, I wrote a rather pissy post about how trop cher it's gotten to hear a lousy pack of Bohemians moan about the cold, or what have you. Write something like that and you run the risk of sounding like you're asking the universe for a ticket, so the only honest thing to do is decide, but really, not to go. Which I did. It is after all Domingo in a bit of stunt casting, Ms. Graham who (let's not pretend) I have hemmed and hawed over in the past, mostly hawed. It's another new production in a season where, despite the sparky wattage of Dessay, one was forced to recall stories of theatrical directors in opera asking the conductor, "What should they do here? There's music, but no words." Maybe there will be no Minghella-fly this season--didn't you think as much?

Sometimes you gotta be rescued from your own stupid. My white knight was the voracious listener whose impeccable verbiage you read at Night after Night, among other places. After all, nobody's going to say no to meeting the folks who do for real what you and I (well, some of you) play at with tea sets and barbies, and if there's a prima involved, more's the incentive to accept.

There's something I have to say about tonight's Iphegenie, but I'm asking you to let me off the hook if I sober up later. Maybe I'm just high, but I may have just spent my finest evening at the Met. "But Maury," says my cat, who was not asked, "what about Frau? And Troyens? And Jenufa? And Tebaldi's Gioconda?" She's trying to make me feel old, I think. I wasn't at Tebaldi's Gioconda, nor was I in Our American Cousin the night Lincoln was shot.

And she has a point. I think it's fine, though, to have all-time favorites that last until the next. So correct me next time something is the best EVAR if you will, but right now, I am at the feet of all who performed and perhaps most of all, Stephen Wadsworth and his team, who must, must becomes fixtures at the Metropolitan. You know I'm serious when I use its full name, right?

Because what Wadsworth did was, I guess, magically sidestep the problem of whether to try to wrench a stageworthy performance, in some naturalistic sense, out of someone who must at the same time sing, or just try to get everyone comfortable in stock gestures that are almost impossible to produce with aplomb. How he did this exactly I am still working out, but I think it was embodied most fully in the Act III trio between Iphegenie, Pylade, and Oreste are basically reenacting the duet from The Impressario where Madames Herz and Silberklang spend twenty minutes saying "No, I am the prima donna!" "No, I am the prima donna!" [lather, rinse repeat] except in this case it's "No, I want to die!" It's static stuff.

So Mr. Wadsworth a) chained them to an altar, which meant nobody got to run to the front of the stage, and b) let them all sit down together, Graham in the middle. Because yes, some really important conversations take place without people facing each other and without anyone getting up. All I can compare it to is Barak, in aforementioned Frau, sitting forlornly in front of an open fridge, also known as My Favorite Thing Anyone Has Ever Made an Opera Singer Do. I'm probably making too much of this.

The set itself seemed conceived as a visual whole in a burst of inspiration, where so many seem to have come from words: so there are these screens, and they move around a lot; or, so they're all about to be in a photograph. It divides the stage seemingly instinctively rather than practically. I am staunchly opposed to stage action before music, but am fully prepared to make an exception for the admittedly ostentatious gesture that begins this work. I wouldn't dream of ruining it for you. If you don't get to go, ask me later.

If you'd like to serve me a plate of cold crow regarding Susan Graham, I will fetch the A-1 sauce. It's true. I've never liked her singing, or never liked it enough, and hearing her praised I could only shrug and feel defined by my minority opinion. Now, I don't think much of epiphanies and conversions, and if you asked who I'd rather hear as der Komponist in an Ariadne to be mounted tomorrow, I'd still write "Mentzer" on my slip of paper without hesitation. As Iphegenie, however, there is nothing that could be done that Susan Graham did not do. She has found what JSU once termed (in discussing what makes a soprano able to deliver "Es Gibt ein Reich" as it must be delivered) inner stillness. I credit her and her director, oh and Gluck while I'm at it. The sync between artist and role was immaculate. And, since this is always my barometer, yes: the acting was as much in the chords as the hands or the face. Or that hair that is such a problem in the posters.

I find it interesting that Domingo has not, last I looked, sold this show out. As we all know, the little old ladies would knock down the hearty to hear him sing Die Toten Augen. Either Gluck is beyond the pale, or someone let it out that he's not singing tenor here, or not exactly so. Oreste, so I understand it, is proto-zwischenfach, and what better to sink your teeth into when you're an already notably baritonal tenor many years past his last Manrico? As Oreste, making sometimes a different sound than the one we know, he was fascinating, and not in the least doing a star turn. You could hardly fault Paul Groves for going all gay for him, I mean really. His lack of vanity was equaled only by his trust in the role, which he treated as no less a sing than Siegmund. Of course there's a certain contingent whose only comment will be "I told you he never had a C." On them a pox, as always.

Speaking of Groves, though, despite his high standards in Mozart, didn't we all think of Groves as a leetle bit of a reliable milquetoast? And then, like the quiet kid who it turns out has a mean left jab, we all sat there slowly realizing as he sang "La calme rentre dans mon coeur" that he can sing Gluck with that balance of passion and elegance that matters here perhaps even more than in Mozart.

William Shimell as Thoas sang with great commitment and, well, limited vocal resources. You know what else, before I try and wring a few hours' sleep out of the night, though? Not enough can be said about how much the Met needs to keep it coming with the Gluck. Maybe it was Louis Langree's extraordinary sense of how to make Gluck sound appropriate in a huge hall without turning into into old-school steroidal proto-Bruckner, but I think just as much, what happened tonight was a cue for anyone listening to reevaluate Gluck, not an academic figure of reform from a textbook or a dusty champion of mythology, but rather as a musical mind whose dramatic heart beat fast and urgent as Wagner's. I'm thinking it's time to dig up my Minkowski Armide and listen to the terrifying ending and hope Peter Gelb might own it as well.

No kidding, I think I may have to see it again before I can tell you everything that was great about it. It is a terrible burden of duty, you understand, but I suffer for you kids.

Next up: probaby another Iphigenie. Jonathan of Wellsung and I are thinking of having a bake sale or just selling our furniture on craigslist as a means of funding several more times on this particular ride.

My thanks again to my kind and gregarious host, who I'm guessing will have words for you as well.

ETA: for all you versionologists out there, Matthew Westphal at Playbill Arts clarifies just what it is we've seen.

The version of Iphigénie used by the Met for this production is something of a hybrid, adapted for the particular strengths of this cast. The bulk of the score will be performed in the original version Gluck wrote for Paris in 1779, but with some changes taken from the adaptation the composer made for its 1781 Vienna premiere, in which Oreste is a tenor rather than a baritone role. Other borrowings from the Vienna version include the transposed version of King Thoas's opera and several orchestral movements.

22 comments:

Willym said...

Mauray thanks for the report - I was dying to hear how it went. It may sound silly but I've loved Iphegenie every since I bought my first recording of it - Patricia Neway, Guilini at Aix - further back than I really care to think. Only saw it once - Glimmerglass with Burden and Gunn going all sexy and barechested on us.

I had heard good things about the production out of Seattle(??)and was wondering about the Domingo star-turn.

Just proves that done right Gluck can be exciting - next at the Met Alceste? Armide? the other Iphegenie?

If you need any donation for the garage sale I'll ship them over.

Philip said...

I agree: one of the great nights at the Met both visually and musically.

Idea: ALCESTE with Anja Harteros.

Straussmonster said...

Maury, when I finally make it to this (which may be sooner than I've bought a ticket for because, well, you know), I have dibs on writing another review, just because yeah.

(Admission to the crowd if anyone cares: I'm writing a dissertation on Gluck. Reception history centered.)

I think Wadsworth would be an ideal fit for any of the others, especially Alceste; the important thing in doing an Armide would be not to stiff the dancing/tableaux aspects of it. I would also kill to see Orphee (not Orfeo) at the Met.

JSU said...

You cite me on Ariadne without mentioning my "Röschmann for Komponist" campaign? Aww.

It's funny, we seem to have seen similar things in the production, only with completely opposite reactions.

Micaëla said...

Damn, I was planning on skipping this one due to a shortage of funds (it's not the opera tickets that kill me, it's the train tickets). But now, not so much. Um, thanks?

Straussmonster--I'm a musicology grad student too! But I'm not a dissertating one yet. And am typing this from my carrel in the library, where I am not getting enough done.

Henry Holland said...

Could any of the Gluckians out there recommend which of his operas, with preferred recordings, this Gluck virgin *gasp* I know, I know *gasp* should check out? Please note that I'll always take a historically incorrect overblown Romantic take on the music as opposed to an austere, period-instrument one if it comes down to that choice. [ducks for cover]

Thanks!

hear him sing Die Toten Augen

Do you know the opera or did you just pick a really obscure one to make your point? I ask, becuase the review on Amazon:

I bought this set on the strength of a review, having never previously heard a note of d'Albert's music. It blew me away!! It perfectly represents that period in European music in which all the musical threads of Europe started to weave together into a heady mix of "ultra-romanticism". One can easily hear in "Toten Augen" the Wagner of Parsifal, the harmonies of Strauss, Debussian Impressionism, and the emotional punch of Puccini's verismo. Yet, despite it's diverse origins, it's idiom is direct and appealing, and my guess is that it would be far easier to perform than anything by Wagner or Strauss. The story is a real fin-de-siecle barnburner, and it's a mystery to me why opera companies world wide aren't rushing out to put this little jewel on their stages. Here's to musical syncretism!

makes it sound just like my cup of Earl Grey with cream and sugar. I'm short on funds too so I'd like to know if it'd be worth it to buy the one recording that seems to exist of it.

Maury D'annato said...

HH: I'm on your side as far as blood and guts vs. HIP (the two aren't necessarily in opposition, but in practice...) So if you'd like to hear Iphegenie you can always go with the Callas. I've actually only listened to it a time or two, but it's Callas, so I mean. I have it in my head her colleagues on that set are baddish. And it's in Italian.

Oh you know what, though? On the basis of the Armide, I'm tempted to recommend Minkowski's Gluck cycle. The Orphee is curiously bloodless, though. Not so, the Armide.

For Or: Phee/Feo itself there are tons of good choices. My recommendation will skew to Podles of course, but the Baker/Leppard is justifiably beloved, the Mackerras/Forrester has many charms, and a lot of people love Ferrier, though I don't know the recording really. For novelty, you can also try Fischer-Dieskau, I believe. If you want historical interest, give Alice Raveau a shot (I can't say I'm wild for her.)

By the way, I don't know doink about Die Toten Augen; it's just a little bit of an inside joke between me and the lamppost. The lamppost that writes plays.

Maury D'annato said...

Willym: isn't it Patricia Neway who's so intense in that old footage of The Consul? Not to mention Menotti and stir up any shit...

God the pictures of that Glimmerglass Iph are just plain old gay porn. I think they just decided to take out any ambiguity in that production.

Straussmonster said...

I would start, to be honest, with the Minkowski Iphigenie en Tauride, which I think is absolutely great in all areas. His Armide is also good, but it's a more formal and static opera. I don't have his Aulide, but of all the Big Five Gluck operas, it's the most opera seria one. There is a lovely recording of Paride ed Elena, but don't make that your first stop.

I divide from Maury here (maybe) in almost uniformly finding the newer and more period recordings leaner, meaner, and more interesting, but I recommend these too because I think they're GOOD.

For Orfeo/phee I really like the Naxos recording with Jean-Paul Fouchecourt. But I'm strange and prefer the French version for tenor. I don't have an Alceste that I quite like because the John Eliot Gardiner recording makes some odd editional choices, going with "Ombres, larves" instead of the slightly more gutbusting "Divinites du Styx" (which is a real gutbuster because you go from lyric to B-flat in no time at all).

Maury D'annato said...

I defer to Gluckmonster. The only one I can recommend from broad listening is Orfeo.

Kevin said...

I was surprised to sign on today and read that you had a review of last night, but once I realized you had seen it I was not so surprised. I am one of those Seattle viewers who saw it in October, and as a less-articulate, non-blogger, I really had a hard time explaining what I felt afterwards. It was just really interesting, and very different from what I usually see. I took a friend who had not seen many operas, only 1/2 an Aida I think, and afterwards he wanted to buy any future tickets which I wouldn't be using. We have been lucky to have Wadsworth out west here.

It is not often that where you sit influences what view of the set you have. I was close, house left, so further away from the altar, but very close to the Orestes-Plyade aria, duet portions. And you are right that there were these long periods of non-singing music, some dances seemed hokey, and other stage moves or tricks helped move the attention forward along the narrative.

I am still puzzled from time to time what happened between me and the work as I saw watched and heard it. It was nice to see someone else see and hear something too.

Chalkenteros said...

Ok so you one-upped me in the "a-gracious-doner-just-gave-me-a-ticket-to-Iphigenie!" battle. Glad you liked it so much ... my anticipation is that much higher now.

Henry Holland said...

Staussmonster, thanks for the recommendations. There's a music library that I go to all the time that has a lot of Gluck CD's; I've simply not bothered with them before. I'll write down your recommendations and see if they have them.

By the way, I don't know doink about Die Toten Augen; it's just a little bit of an inside joke between me and the lamppost. The lamppost that writes plays

Well, I think Mr./Mrs./Ms. Lampost should do an adaptation of it, stat! I've only been able to find a plot synopsis in German, but basically:

It's set in Judea at the time of Jesus performing miracles. Soprano is blind, married to Baritone who is a Roman senator who is physically deformed. OK, love it right there, but ah! Tenor is the handsome Roman guard who enters the picture. Soprano goes to Jesus, miraculously has her sight cured and falls in love with Tenor, who she thinks is her husband. Bariton catches them, murders Tenor and Soprano goes blind again, never having seen her husband's deformed self. Baritone doesn't let on that he's killed Tenor and he and Soprano end the opera madly in love.

Whew! I found a couple of sites that have clips, sounds like a terrific piece of music; there's a recording with Marianne Schech and Wolfgang Windgassen that I'm going to buy.

Thank you so much for throwaway remark, it's lead me to possibly another gem from my favorite period of opera, ca. Salome (1905) to Die Tote Stadt (1920).

I love the Internet so. damn. much.

thomas said...

I'm a huge Gluck fan and agree with all the recommendations given. I would add to those a live recording of the recent Paris production of Iphigenie (available on OperaShare) with Graham and Russell Braun, conducted by Minkowski.

Willym said...

Thought I had put up this comment yesterday but today there it is gone!!!!

I had two discs of the French Orfée - one with Simoneau conducted by Hans Rosbuad (have the CD now) and the other with Gedda from Aix in the '50s. Think those discs are all in storage - schleeping around the world is easier with CDs. I've always loved the Simoneau-Rosbuad.

For Iphigénie - the Callas of course and also the Boston Baroque with Christine Goerke repeating her Glimmerglass/NYCO performance. Wish there was a recording of Baker doing the Alceste from her Covent Garden farewell. Have the Minkowski Armide which is good and love the Paul McCreish-Gabrielli Paride e Elena.

And yes Muary that is the same Patricia Neway - she also created the Mother Abbess role in the original Mary Martin Sound of Music. She created quite the stir in Aix with the Ipigénie - boos mixed with cheers and a roasting in the press from what I've read. But then Aix was always a bit of a bull pit - I recall a performance of Luisa Miller there that came to a grinding 20 minute halt. Someone booed the tenor - whose name I thankfully forget - and he climbed down of the stage to start a punch up with the booer. It was a lousy night at the opera but a great night at the fights.

Cameron said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
stewball said...

It's me, the lampost, weighing in on Die Toten Augen, cauz seriously, who else is gonna do that? Debussy meets Lehar was sort how it struck me, and the appeal of it seems to be me to be so much in the lusciousness of it all that I'd recommend going for the best recorded orchestral sound and the prettiest sounding soprano rather than opting to hear it done by distinguished interpreters of past times. I bought the cpo recording with Dagmar Schellenberger, and I'm willing to bet she makes lovelier sounds than Marianne Schech, because really, don't most people?

I'm not sure I'd want to take on an adaptation of it unless it was meant to be uproariously funny. I think d'Albert makes something lovely of it, but mostly by making it all go by really slowly. At the speed of norman human interaction, hilarity seems inevitable. I have a number of favorite lines, but I think my top choice is:

Arsinoe: Jesus, what kind of a man is he?

And finally, the lady does indeed see her deformed husband, but lies and says she hasn't, so that their marriage can endure happily. Presumably, Jesus is fine with this.

Maury D'annato said...

Dearest lamppost, you know that the Marianne Schech putdown is among my most favoritest forms of humor, don't you?

stewball said...

Can one purchase these putdowns,collected in a single skim volume?

stewball said...

And when I say skim, I do mean slim. Skim is certainly slimming, but I know these words are not yet synonymous.

Henry Holland said...

And finally, the lady does indeed see her deformed husband, but lies and says she hasn't, so that their marriage can endure happily. Presumably, Jesus is fine with this

Hahaha. Thanks for that plot twist, the translation from Google Language of the one synopsis I found wasn't very good, obviously.

And, course, Jeebus would approve, it's a heterosexual marriage at stake, after all.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

徵信, 徵信網, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 感情挽回, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 挽回感情, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 捉姦, 徵信公司, 通姦, 通姦罪, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 捉姦, 監聽, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 外遇問題, 徵信, 捉姦, 女人徵信, 女子徵信, 外遇問題, 女子徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 徵信公司, 徵信網, 外遇蒐證, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 感情挽回, 挽回感情, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 外遇沖開, 抓姦, 女子徵信, 外遇蒐證, 外遇, 通姦, 通姦罪, 贍養費, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 女人徵信, 外遇

徵信, 徵信網, 徵信社, 徵信網, 外遇, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信, 女人徵信, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信,

徵信, 徵信社,徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 離婚, 外遇,離婚,

徵信社,外遇, 離婚, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信, 外遇, 徵信,外遇, 抓姦, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信,徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社,徵信,徵信,