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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
Excellent music; boring production
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Excellent music; boring production

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

GLUCK'S
IPHIGENIE EN AULIDE,
IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE
NETHERLANDS OPERA
BLU-RAY DVD


This Blu-ray disc contains almost four hours made up of two related operas by Christoph Willibald Gluck, Iphigénie en Aulide and Iphigénie en Tauride. Presented together in one night in 2011 by Netherlands Opera, this production features a single, stark set for both operas. The benefit of this colorless set is that it puts the emphasis on the music, but the drawback is that it becomes visually boring&almost painfully so. The set is nothing but a large, tilted square with a small circular lift in its middle and large industrial metal stairways on either side. (I was once told, 'When in doubt, use stairs!')

Fortunately, the music is rewarding. The stars of the evening are conductor Marc Minkowski and the period instrument orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble. Gluck wrote lovely, lively music, especially his orchestrations; and Minkowski gives it every ounce of vitality it possesses. If the vocal writing becomes less interesting (so many repeats, with no ornamentations), just direct your attention to the orchestra, where you'll find plenty of delights. Transparent textures, rhythmic accents, and lovely phrasing yield constant pleasure, fully revealed in the superb DTS Master Audio surround sound.

In the 'behind the scenes' extras (38 minutes), Minkowski explains that the orchestra plays at the appropriate pitch for Gluck's period, namely a full tone below that used nowadays, and a half tone below the baroque period of Handel. Besides being accurate to the period, it also makes declamation of the text easier for the singers.

The orchestra and chorus are placed behind this set, rather lower than its upper edge, and in subdued light, so that the chorus and players are almost invisible. This placement, of course, puts the singers up front, but with no onstage walls to help project their voices into the audience. (I wondered if in fact the audience was actually there during filming because there is not a single peep from them until the final applause.)

All the singers are excellent, but (with one exception) without being in any way particularly exceptional. There are a few familiar names, such as Anne Sofie von Otter and Veronique Gens, but it's the tenor in the first opera who is unforgettable. French Canadian on his mother's side and Egyptian on his father's, Frédéric Antoun has looks comparable to Juan Diego Florez and a voice of silvery beauty, with a very fast but small vibrato, rather like Australian tenor David Hobson. While not a big voice, it clearly carries over the orchestra with ease. Musical and capable as an actor, his career is clearly one to watch. (For a lovely sample of his singing, go to youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbBz1a6GYjA.)

Antoun aside, I can't say I found this disc exciting. Yes, the music is first-rate, but for me the dull set and colorless costumes left me a little bored, despite some decent stage choreography that filled the less active moments. Some visual choices were also off-the-mark, such as the bomb belt worn by Ephigénie while on her way to being sacrificed. But for those who love Gluck's music above all, this disc is highly recommended.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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