November 24, 2007

Getting Up Close to "Iphigénie en Tauride"

Seeing a show or listening to an album is usually satisfying enough for most folks. But those of us who are fanatics crave more. We want to know the inside story. We want to peek behind the curtain. We want to get (or at least pretend to get) up close to the process. Which is why instead of sleeping in and recuperating from the rigors of preparing, eating, and cleaning up after our family Thanksgiving dinner, I got up early on Friday morning, finished hand washing our fancy glasses and took the bus down to the Metropolitan Opera for a final dress rehearsal of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, which is scheduled to open on Tuesday night.

My frequent theater companion Bill regularly attends these working rehearsals at the Met and he's invited me in the past but this was the first time I could make it. But, to my great dismay, I didn't make it there on time. I somehow confused the starting time and so got there after the performance had started. Bill left my ticket at the box office but there's no admittance into the hall once the singing starts and the ushers sent me to the late room, a recital space that has a large screen so that latecomers can see (via a static and dimly lit camera) and hear (via poor mics) what's happening on stage. There were five of us, slouching in our seats like the tardy kids in a high school detention room, and we nearly bolted for the door at intermission time. Bill was waiting for me in the lobby. I abjectly apologized for being late; he graciously filled me in on what I had missed. Then we went inside to his marvelous seats in the Grand Tier and watched the second half of the show.

This isn't the familiar tale of the doomed House of Atreus that you probably read in your middle school Greek mythology. That's the one where Iphigenia's father Agamemnon sacrifices her so that the gods will carry his troops safely to Troy, her vengeful mother Clytemnestra eventually kills Agamemnon, and her dutiful brother later helps slay the mom. That version, told in Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, was the Greek playwright’s second crack at the story and is perhaps most famous because it was his final work and posthumously won the Tony of its day, first prize at the Athenian Dramatic Festival. But a few years earlier, Euripides had written Iphigenia in Tauris, in which Iphigenia is saved at the last minute by the goddess Diana, carried away to a foreign land and, after much drama, eventually reconciled with her brother. The 18th century opera innovator Christopher Willibald Gluck set both versions to music and Iphigénie en Tauride is considered by many to be his masterpiece.

The production Bill and I saw debuted at the Seattle Opera last month and its New York appearance will mark the first time in 90 years that Gluck’s penultimate opera will be performed at the Met. The direction by Stephen Wadsworth, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz (you may have seen his Tony Award-winning work in Thoroughly Modern Millie and the most recent revival of Kiss Me, Kate), set by Thomas Lynch and choreography by Daniel Pelzig are all the same but the New York cast includes the dazzling mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as Iphigénie, the great tenor Plácido Domingo in the role of her brother Orest (usually sung by a baritone) and rising tenor Paul Groves as Orest’s best friend Pylade.

I'm not a big operagoer and so I'll leave the appraisals to the experts (and to those who arrive early enough to avoid the late room) whose reviews should appear on Wednesday. But I love the theatricality of opera both on stage and off. And I can say that this Iphigenie is certainly theatrical.
But what I really loved was watching the musicians play in their street clothes and seeing techies run down the aisles and into the wings to make adjustments on one thing or another. I even liked watching my fellow audience members sit on the lobby floor and eat brown bag sandwiches during intermission. The production played straight through with no stops. But the cast and crew still seemed to be working on the curtain calls. At one point, Groves walked out only to scurry back off. Those of us lucky to be in the audience clapped anyway. After all, we hadn't come for perfection; we'd come to be insiders.


Sarah B. Roberts said...

Brava (except for the tardiness! ha!)! I'm going on Wednesday the 5th - I've been waiting for months and months. Susan Graham is unarguably one of the best actresses the opera world has and her voice is like a trumpet.

jan@broadwayandme said...

Thanks for commenting, SarahB. I'd love to hear what you think of the show when you see it.