Gluck: Iphigenia in Aulis

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

ALBUM TITLE: Gluck: Iphigenia in Aulis
WORKS: Iphigenia in Aulis (arr. Wagner)
PERFORMER: Camilla Nylund, Michelle Breedt, Christian Elsner, Oliver Zwarg, Raimund, Nolte, Thilo Dahlmann, Richard Logiewa; Chorus Musicus Köln; Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering


Three of Gluck’s greatest admirers – Berlioz, Wagner and Richard Strauss – all felt the need to adapt one or another of his operas to make it more effective for their contemporaries. Wagner, with characteristic selflessness, dedicated himself to the task in the busy winter of 1846-47, while he was at work on his opera Lohengrin. He translated the text from French into German, rewrote many of the recitatives, rescored lightly throughout, and abolished what he regarded as the sentimental ending into one of his own devising. Though he added instruments, from just hearing the piece you’d never think that it was by Wagner. His adjustments seem admirable, but so is Gluck’s original, so this new recording is mildly luxurious.

It would be more luxurious if the enterprise had been more satisfactorily carried through, but the performance is often only tolerable. Soprano Camilla Nylund in the title role is good, as one would expect. So is Christian Elsner as Achilles; Elsner seems to me one of the most promising young tenors around. The rest of the cast, some of whom have big roles, range from the bearable to the painful.

What I find least acceptable is the conductor Christopher Spering’s approach: he gets his orchestra, an emaciated body, to play as if giving a historically informed account of an 18th-century piece of music, and yet it is mid-19th century, which means that much of Wagner’s painstaking work is undone.

Also off-putting are the accompanying booklet notes, which contain a long discussion with Spering, given in German and English, while the opera’s text itself is given in German only, making this recording pretty much valueless to anyone who doesn’t read German. Why did this appalling habit get underway a few years ago?


Michael Tanner