ALBUM TITLE: Gluck
WORKS: Iphigénie en Tauride
PERFORMER: Juliette Galstian, Rodney Gilfry, Deon van der Walt; Zürich Opera Chorus & La Scintilla Orchestra/William Christie; dir. Claus Guth (Zürich, 2001)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 376
‘Mighty passions at boiling point’: in this phrase Calzabigi, librettist of Gluck’s Orfeo and Alceste, summed up the composer’s unique contribution to musical drama. Watching Arthaus’s deeply moving account of Gluck’s penultimate opera I found Calzabigi’s words constantly in my mind.
A worthy performance of Iphigénie en Tauride is both a rarity – it’s short but hugely demanding – and one of opera’s most intense and powerful experiences. This 2001 Zürich production is worthy. Economically employing stagecraft redolent of ancient Greek theatre – Claus Guth, the producer, has the principals persistently shadowed or mimicked by figurants wearing giant masks – it strikes unerringly to the work’s most painful issues. In Guth’s hands, indeed, this French tragédie-lyrique becomes a heart-rending, at times terrifying, modern psychodrama: Gluck’s neo-classical ‘diction’ may be sacrificed, but infinitely more is gained than lost.
The staging evidently inspires all its participants. Christie, perhaps less hard-hitting than other authentically attuned Gluck conductors, commands wonderfully well the piercingly simple lyricism that irradiates all the peak moments of music drama. Rodney Gilfry, opera’s answer to Brad Pitt, sings with beauty of tone and more aristocratic refinement than on the Telarc audio recording made in Boston two years earlier; the tenor Deon van der Walt is an impeccable stylist. At the centre is the richly talented young Armenian soprano Juliette Galstian. She may struggle at times with the vocal lines – Iphigénie’s G major lament taxes her audibly – but her sincere warmth of presence and voice communicates at every level. The attached Gluck documentary is full of stale clichés, the booklet essay likewise. No matter: for me the show itself proved overwhelming.