|Christoph Willibald von Gluck, c. 1775|
Stephen Wadsworth's production featured detailed naturalism in select objects and architectural features, and a Personenregie which, while emotionally realistic, used a lot of stylized gesture reminiscent of dance (inspiration from a Euripidean chorus, perhaps?) Pictures from the 2007 run, with the same three principals, may be found here, with the caveat that much of the production's interest comes from its use of space and movement, neither of which shows to good effect in still photographs. The stage is divided into two unequal parts, with the greater the Temple of Diana, the smaller the prison where Pylade and Oreste are confined. (When Pylade and Oreste are chained to the temple altar, the priestesses move to the adjacent room, reinforcing the consciousness that Iphigenie, too, is a prisoner.) The affair opens with a display of ballet and stagecraft that would have delighted the eighteenth century: Iphigénie is sacrificed in pantomime over Clytemnestre's protests, whereupon Diane descends from the heavens, revives the girl, and whisks her up into the rafters. Iphigénie wakes from a nightmare and the orchestra begins. Dancers mingled with the chorus throughout, and even the movements of the singers were extraordinarily balletic. Occasionally I thought this threatened to become too much of a good thing, but the symmetry between Oreste and Iphigenie, exhausted and traumatized on opposite sides of their wall, was a nice touch, as was the symmetry/tension between Pylade and Oreste. The stylized choreography of the Scythians also made very clear the sexual threat to the women from their captors. Wadsworth's coup de foudre, though, comes at the close. More on that anon.
Patrick Summers led a taut, strongly-propelled account of the score. There were a few moments where synchronization with the chorus seemed slightly off, but they were few, and quickly corrected. The melancholy lyricism which I've mentally associated with the score was there, but also eruptions of wildness both apt and exciting. Lei Xu, in her Met debut, was a standout as the First Priestess, with a supple and lovely soprano and assured, eloquent stage presence. Second Priestess Cecilia Hall (another debutante) was also very fine. I hope that Gordon Hawkins, who sang Thoas, was having an off night. I was intrigued by his leathery baritone, but he sounded as though he were pushing without reserves. Granted, dramatic subtlety may not be what one associates with Thoas, but some ominously emphasized phrasing would be nice. Paul Groves sang a beautiful Pylade. His bright tenor rang out impressively, but he also used it with considerable subtlety when called for. His anguish came across as both credible and creditable, and his love for Oreste as both genuine and, perhaps, romantically thwarted.
Oreste was sung in Gluck's tenor rewrite of the part by Plácido Domingo. Maybe you've heard of him. Yes, Domingo's instrument is worn, but still heroic. "Dieux! qui me poursuivez" was a little bit anxious; I missed bits of diction, and he wasn't coming over the orchestra as clearly as elsewhere. The performance as a whole was so finely done that it seemed raw. Domingo embodied a man pursued by furies, an honorable man who has committed a crime that haunts him, and who is being punished for it in ways that strain the edges of his sanity. Every line of his body is weary. When he and Susan Graham meet eyes for the first time, you can see them both aching with the desire for hope. The moment when Oreste ascended the steps to the sacrificial altar was a dramatic set piece made to be filled by a presence such as Domingo's; the expression on his face was indescribable. (Yes, I cried.) His complex timbre contrasted beautifully with Groves', and the older/younger man dynamic worked well for their respective roles, I thought. And the beauty and drama were multiplied when all the principals came together.
I got dreadfully blurry curtain call photos (the result of being surreptitious and flash-less,) but I did get them:
|Paul Groves is serious|
|The Placido wave!|
|Everyone roared Bravaaaaaaa|