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Iphigénie en Tauride

Grand Théâtre de Genève

In Review Geneva Iphigenie en Tauride hdl 415
Antonacci and Taddia, Gluck’s Iphigénie and Oreste in Geneva
© GTG/Carole Parodi 2015

Gluck’s reform masterpiece Iphigénie en Tauride began the opera year at Geneva’s Grand Théâtre in a new production by Lukas Hemleb, with Hartmut Haenchen conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Anna Caterina Antonacci took on the title role.

Hemleb is influenced by Asian theater; against the ruins of an antique amphitheater, the characters had Kabuki-style makeup and flowing traditional costumes. The chorus held puppet doubles of themselves, while the soloists enjoyed the luxury of having their doubles manipulated by puppeteers. This gave the evening a hybrid quality, somewhere between a Greek tragedy and a masked Noh drama. The result was not without moving moments, as when Oreste and Pylade were confined in their holding cell or any time Antonacci seized the stage in a role tailor-made for her charismatic temperament. This was a memorable assumption, declaimed with all the skill the soprano has in the French repertoire. Her upper register sounded stressed, but this was rarely troubling: “Ô malheureuse Iphigénie” emerged in a performance of searing intensity. Antonacci found a clear understanding of the stage director’s theatrical language and developed an interesting intensity with her puppet double; she also used sweeping operatic gestures to memorable ends. 

Elsewhere, Hemleb’s work seemed at odds with Gluck’s reforms, which had as their goal to reflect the intensity of the opera’s poetry by continuous action, with no distracting ornamentation. The director and his designer, Alexander Polzin, were masters of distraction, be it the constantly veiled choristers, who sang magnificently under their new chorus master, Alan Woodbridge, but whose expression was limited by their disguise, or the noisy plopping of Play-doh dropping from under the amphitheater in the final scene, which purportedly had something to do with the disintegration of the old society. Movement veered from the naturalistic to the stylized, and the artificiality of the puppets failed to clarify the pulsing realism of the score.

With the exception of Antonacci, the cast’s French declamation was less than successful. Bruno Taddia worked his attractive baritone hard as Oreste, while tenor Steve Davislim was more at ease in the role’s lyrical moments than when vocal heroism was required. Both needed to work harder on projecting the all-important text, as did Alexey Tikhomirov’s heavily accented Thoas, whose cavernous bass was defeated by the role’s high tessitura on January 25.

Haenchen and his modern symphony orchestra seemed to remember the composer’s German roots with a musical approach that looked forward not just to Berlioz but to Weber — a very different approach from the French early-music musicians who have claimed this repertoire as their own. It is easy to regret the lack of transparent textures and airy tempos but impossible not to admire the glowing generosity of Haenchen’s well-played Romantic take on the score. spacer 


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