Saturday, September 30, 2006

First night in the new house

Revised a bit from last night on account of sobriety.

Good times at the Lyric Opera last night, for its new staging of Iphigenie en Tauride. The main attraction? One Ms. Susan Graham, of course. Her harrowing, damaged, exquisitie Iphiginie is trademark Graham through and through: the unerring instincts, the consummate musicianship, etc. One just can't get over what a unique talent it is (nor can the Lyric, apparently, who saw fit to give her her own curtain call, replete with special spotlight...I mean, it's not like she's Elvis, people).

But last night really demonstrated a new side of SG for me--I've only seen her live three times, and one of those in concert, but she has always struck me as a very 'still' presence onstage. That's not to say stilted by any means, but simply that her physical presence plays second fiddle to the vocal drama. Or maybe it's just that she's like, 6'5'', and that conjurs up less mobile adjectives like towering and statuesque. In any event, this was not the case last night. Barefoot, clad in a black shroud, and sporting long unkempt hair (instead of that kicky highlighted business we usually associate with her), her Ipheginie stumbles about, curls up in the corner, lunges impetuously, and beats the walls with all the bravado of an inmate in an asylum. It's a dynamite performance and a persuasive reading.

But if I were to make one small quibble, and I were, it would be that she seemed guarded in her upper register. It didn't come up that often, but there was notable cautiousness in several big flourishes up top. Question for people that know more about Iphigenie than I: is that because the role has some sections decidedly at the fringes of modern mezzo range? It's nominally sung by full fledged sopranos, no?

As to the rest of the cast: very high marks to Paul Groves' Pylade--a thrilling clarion tone and deep commitment, although the admittedly very hard big aria in Act III seemed to get the better of him in a few places. Lucas Meachem, in the role of his, um, "special friend" Oreste brings a very agreeable light baritone to the part, but had some notable intermittent shortfalls in the power and pitch departments. Mark Delavan turned in a solid Thoas, but I didn't enjoy him as much here as I have on other occasions.

The staging, which plays out on a simple box of slate walls, is on its face a standard minimalist angle, but definitely effective, and in parts very inventive. The lighting design is spare and on target--harsh spots down stage are used to throw the singers' shadows against the slate walls and a devious orange wash crops up to denote points of madness, a haunting blue for Iphigenie's sorrow. Shadows are used cleverly throughout to create a murky, foreboding atmosphere and imbue the simple set with a remarkable range of textures. In a nod to the source material, the chorus is deployed here in the Greek sense, as an abiding presence shaping the action, though with a good deal more writhing around, to be sure.

I took some issue with the major gimmick of the first and second acts, which has everyone writing "Iphigenie" and other character names "REDRUM" style on the walls, then washing it off in various ways. Now, I like it when actors draw on the stage as much as the next guy, but this may have gone a bit over the top--by the fourth cycle of drawing/erasing I kind of wanted someone to take their chalk away. All in all though, file this under thoughtful minimalist productions of the sort you think City Opera should be able to do in its sleep, but for some reason just can't.

In the pit, Louis Langree led the Lyric Orchestra in a swinging, carefree reading and drew a really lovely delicate texture from the players. I wondered, though, how responsible he was for a not insignificant handful of moments where singer and orchestra got out of sync. (Private to Met Orchestra: don't worry, you're still my best girl.)

Some pics of the new house forthcoming...


Maury D'annato said...

Gluck is so much more full of, um, soul if you'll pardon the expression than Handel, and yet it's a big deal when anyone puts on anything other than Orfeo.

Not to slag on Graham, though I often do, I think her top is simply showing signs of wear after many years of honorable service. It was in Ariadne last year. She has spent a long time singing zwischenfach roles.

ffoperabitch said...

The role of Iphigenie has a lot of work around the soprano passagio: Graham's recording of some of the arias on her recital disc shows some curious "turning" in (for want of a better word) on these notes, a bit like Heather Harper in her Messiah recording.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)