Iphigénie is one of my all time favourite operas and has some absolutely gutwrenchingly beautiful music. The Met production had Susan Graham, Placido Domingo and Paul Groves. This looked set to be amazing. It wasn’t quite though it was very good indeed and the problems were all with the production. Despite Peter Gelb announcing before the curtain that Ms. Graham and Mr. Domingo were both suffering from colds the singing was first rate across the board. I’m looking forward even more to Susan Graham singing this with Russell Braun and Joseph Kaiser next year in Toronto.
The production suffered from being a bit cluttered and a bit over obvious. It started out well with a mimed scene of Iphigénie’s sacrifice and rescue at Aulis that was intended as a bad dream of Iphigénie’s in exile in Tauris. It was quick and led nicely into the ravishingly beautiful opening bars. It probably set a record for how fast an opera has brought tears to my eyes. The rest of Act 1 featured rather more chorus and dancers than the stage could comfortably hold and there was a particularly intrusive loony Scythian who capered and leered in a very odd way. The shark got well and truly jumped in Act 2 though when Clytemnestra, in an acid green gown completely at odds with the fairly subdued prevailing colour scheme, appeared in a wall with her arms extending from it to caress Iphigénie and Oreste on their respective sides. This looked like one of those old fashioned music hall acts where the reciter’s arms keep extending to ludicrous lengths. Again this is supposed to be a dream, this time of Oreste’s, as he is tormented by the Furies. Clytemnestra emerges from the wall to slay Agamemnon and his bloodied corpse and she, also covered in blood, remain on stage until the interval. Apparently the Met audience has a collective IQ in single figures and has to be reminded of the back story (which evry skuleboy kno) at every opportunity. And, if Oreste is being tormented it’s surely by his killing of his mother, not her killing of Agamemnon.
Acts 3 and 4 were much better though too busy and with some odd capering and overdone business at the very end. This is a classical piece based on a classical Greek tragedy. Aesthetically one needs to think Aeschylus rather than Barnum and Bailey. The broadcast was fine bar two or three momentary audio drops and the inevitable surplus of close-ups.
So overall, performance 10/10, production 4/10.
Mercifully the COC will be using the much more minimalistic production that has been seen in Madrid and Chicago.