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In Review > North America

Iphigénie en Aulide

NEW YORK CITY
Met+Juilliard
2/10/15

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Takaoki Onishi, Andrew Stenson, conductor Jane Glover, Ying Fang and Virginie Verrez in the Met+Juilliard presentation of Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater
© Marty Sohl/Juilliard School
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Stenson and Fang
© Marty Sohl/Juilliard School
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Liv Redpath and Glover
© Marty Sohl/Juilliard School

New York City’s most adventurous opera programming thus far this season can be found at its conservatories, which have already served up Rossini’s Turco in Italia (at Juilliard) and Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth (at Manhattan School of Music). On February 10 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, the Met+Juilliard offered the first of three performances of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, a historically significant opera — the first that the composer wrote for Paris — but one that few in the audience had ever encountered live before. The semi-staged presentation mixed Juilliard vocal students with members of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and revealed an impressive degree of talent from both flanks: a group of young singers well equipped for the idiosyncratic, rigorous demands of Gluck’s musical dramaturgy. 

Even though Iphigénie’s third act includes a couple of bravura arias that come to full stops, for the most part its musical argument is marked by fluid movement between recitative-like declamation and arioso lyricism — an approach that sets Gluck’s works apart from the Baroque “numbers operas” that preceded them. The extended monologues of Agamemnon, ordered by the gods the sacrifice his daughter Iphigénie, epitomize the musical strategy; according to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera they’re “without precedent in the history of opera.” Yunpeng Wang handled these passages superbly, not just because of the intrinsic handsomeness of his firmly produced baritone, but also because of his skill in navigating the shifts in musical discourse while staying true to the emotional through-line. 

The evening’s Iphigénie, Ying Fang, possesses a lyric soprano of such verdant beauty that she could merely exhibit it and score a success. But she showed real artistry, coloring her voice to fit her expressive intent at each moment; for instance, in her first-act scene “L'ai-je bien entendu?” musing on the supposed perfidy of her lover Achille, she shifted in a flash from amorous reverie to sorrowful anger, the voice retaining its inherent sweetness through it all. Fang’s stage deportment, too was that of an true artist. She made not one extraneous gesture, but in her bearing and marvelously expressive face rendered the princess’s sentiments viscerally comprehensible.

Achille was tenor Andrew Stenson, singing with infectious ardor, stunning in his easy access to clarion high notes, but less secure in his self-presentation than his colleagues. Virginie Verrez won a big hand as Iphigénie’s mother Clytemnestre. As lovely as it was to hear Verrez’s treatment of the text (she was the sole native French speaker among the principals), I felt she deployed her large-scaled mezzo-soprano too lavishly for this particular role and venue, and her tendency to punch the notes out impeded her ability to achieve a true legato. 

As the high priest Calchas, Brandon Cedel revealed an impressively solid bass-baritone, capped by a fresh, ringing upper register. Baritone Takaoki Onishi, as Achille’s familiar Patrocle, was stalwart both in presence and musical acumen. Sava Vemić, in the few lines given to the warrior Arcas, displayed a truly imposing bass, albeit one not consistently on pitch. The cool, instrumental soprano of Liv Redpath proved ideal for Diane, the opera’s dea ex machina: it was as if the sky itself had been rendered into sound. The Greek Women who serve as Iphigénie’s handmaidens were a well-blended trio (Angela Vallone, Kara Sainz, Mary-Elizabeth O’Neill) with Vallone’s supple, bell-like soprano a particular delight. 

Director David Paul set the performers moving in front of the orchestra and chorus as they would in a production with costumes and scenery, in action that illustrated the drama without exactly illuminating it. In fact, the person most responsible for the dramatic thrust of the evening was conductor Jane Glover, leading a judicious reading that let the piece unfold at what seemed like its inevitable pace. She also drew alert, musical results from Juilliard415, the school’s original-instruments band, and from the excellent chorus, drawn from Juilliard’s ranks. 

This Iphigénie served as a showcase for exceptional young talent, as befits a conservatory production. But more significantly, it was a performance that gave Gluck his full due. spacer 

FRED COHN

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