Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gluck's "Iphigénie en Tauride"

Last night, with LW and AG, watched Iphigénie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck. On the big screen, as it was, a part of the Met Opera’s annual HD Summer Festival. The plot reworks a play by Euripides, in which Iphigénie is not sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, but is rescued by Diana. Held captive by the Scythians, she (a passionate Susan Graham) is forced to conduct their human sacrifices as a high priestess.

The drama really begins when the Scythians capture her brother Orestes (Plácido Domingo), still fleeing from the Furies unleashed by his killing of his mother in revenge for her murder of his father and her husband. A terribly ironic cycle would be complete if Iphigénie kills her brother as a Scythian sacrifice to the gods. The seemingly inevitable tragic ending is complicated and delayed by Pylades (marvelous Paul Groves), Orestes’ companion in his flight, who loves Orestes enough to die for him. He is the only guiltless one, unlike the House of Atreus.

At the end, the circle of family killings is saved from completion when Orestes and Iphigénie finally realize who the other is, or, in Orestes’ words, “where I am.” Diana is lowered down to stop the fighting between the Scythians and the Greeks, as if to say that though we cannot be pure in the world, we can be purified through suffering.

The production, by Stephen Wadsworth, was quite beautiful. The stage was divided by a very thick wall between the temple glowering in red and the outside freezing in blue. Inside or out. Guilty or innocent. Life or death. The wall separates but also joins.

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