Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD. It was staged and recorded as a double bill with Iphigénie en Tauride at De Nederlandse Opera in September 2011 in productions by Pierre Audi. It’s excellent in just about every respect. The cast is to die for, the production is interesting and so is the staging in the rather challenging space of The Amsterdam Music Theatre, which also poses problems for the video director. Backed up, on Blu-ray, by a 1080i picture and DTS-HD-MA sound it’s a pretty compelling package.
Gluck’s libretto is based fairly closely on the Euripides play though Menelaus and Orestes are cut and it ends with the assumed, non extant, ending where Diana forgives everyone and reunites the lovers rather than spiriting Iphigenia off to Tauris. Audi sets the production in, more or less, the present. The Greek soldiers wear combat gear, Agamemnon wears the dress uniform of a high ranking officer and Iphigenia and Cluytemnestra wear rather fetching camo couture, except in the final scenes where Iphigenia seems to be wearing a suicide bomber belt. The set is a bare stage with metallic staircases rising either side. The orchestra is behind the stage and beyond them is a gallery that isn’t used much though it has a role to play in the final scene. It’s simple and effective and allows the audience to focus on the characters.
The cast, as I said earlier, is amazing. Véronique Gens sings the title role with Anne-Sofie von Otter as Clytemnestra. Fréderic Antoun is Achilles and Nicolas Testé sings Agamemnon. All four sing and act superbly. All four characters are utterly believable; the father and daughter torn between love and duty, the distraught, yet dignified queen and the dashing and impulsive young hero. It’s a timeless story effectively told. And the music is just gorgeous. The main characters are well backed up by the rest of the cast, with an especially fine cameo by Christian Helmer as Calchas, and by the off-stage chorus. Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble provide suitably idiomatic direction and accompaniment.
I’m not sure what to make of Misjel Vermeiren’s video direction. It’s a challenging set to film, not helped by low lighting levels. He responds by using a lot of weird camera angles, including directly overhead, and a lot of close ups. Ultimately it doesn’t matter too much as the glory here is the singing and the acting rather than the staging. The picture and sound quality (surround and stereo) are both first class. There is a short bonus interview with Audi on the disk and a synopsis and essay in the booklet, but no track listing. Subtitles are English, French, German, Dutch and Korean.