Great musically, not as good visually
C. Boerger | Columbus, OH USA | 07/02/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Iphigenie en Tauride is a great opera by a great composer, so it is nice to finally have a production available on DVD. Is this an ideal production? Probably not. I had never seen the work produced onstage before watching this, but based on my limited exposure to the opera, this DVD works beter on audio terms than on visual ones.
Gluck's operas come between Handel's and Mozart's, they form a bridge between baroque and classical. In the development of opera as an art form Gluck was a very important figure. He took opera seria and made it more direct, more visceral, more dramatic, trimming many of the frills associated with the genre so that the result is something compact, intensified, emotionally engaging(similar to what Verdi accomplished with bel canto). Iphigenie en Tauride might just be the epitome of this approach. Typical of opera seria, there isn't much action...most of the key events have already happened offstage, before the opera begins, leaving the characters to dwell on their personal crises and emotional conflicts that result from said events. Despite all this, Iphigenie is a swiftly paced opera, it doesn't crawl, it MOVES, and this is a result of Gluck's galvanized score, driving the characters and story toward the denouement in a minimal amount of time(the running time on this disc is under two hours) but with a high level of energy. Brilliant writing on the composer's part. No doubt Gluck played an influential role in the young Mozart's development in producing music that was equally mobile and consuming.
The audio portion of this disc is virtually flawless. All the singers are in fine voice. Juliette Galstian and Rodney Gilfry, the two leads, sing in a manner that is powerful, intensely dramatic, larger than life. They really pour themselves into the turmoil of their characters, as a result they dominate both the music and the viewer's attention. Zurich Opera's Orchestra La Scintilla, under the direction of William Christie, a specialist in this kind of music, gives a scintillating performance(appropriately enough for an orchestra bearing that name) that is not for the faint of heart, constantly pushing the drama forward. My only complaint with the sound is that there is some distortion at some points, usually when Galstian pushes the high notes with maximum force.
The visual portion doesn't fare nearly as well. By that, I don't mean to undermine the attractiveness of the singers, not by any means. Galstian is gorgeous, and the dashing Gilfry could easily pass for Brad Pitt's identical twin; it isn't hard to see why he is so popular in studly roles such as Don Giovanni and Billy Budd. No, my complaints rest with the production. I don't oppose modern productions as a rule, particularly when they are attached to more familiar works, but I have a problem when they serve no purpose other than to confuse the narrative and muddle the themes. The story takes place in ancient Greece, in fact it covers some of the same characters and events as Strauss' Elektra. Placing Iphigenie, Orestes and the rest in more contemporary dress, and having them flit about in surreal-looking drawing rooms fogs the viewer's understanding of what is actually going on. As for the giant-headed characters constantly shuffling around in the background, reenacting key events(usually of a violent nature) like some kind of mute Greek chorus...they are interesting to watch at first, even somewhat effective, but increased exposure reduces their impact to one of silliness. Overall, many of the backdrops are visually striking, they simply add nothing to the drama, if anything they make it more opaque.
Because of the wonderful music, and because this is the only version of the opera available on DVD, I give it a high recommendation. Regarding the production, however, seeing as how this was my first visual exposure to Iphigenie, I would have preferred a more traditional approach."
Superior production, quality
jswell | Chicago, IL | 02/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most of the reviews concerning this "abstract" production are from opera fans who never saw this opera. I did, in a similar "abstract" production at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and it turned out to be one of the most remarkable operas I and my friends had ever seen. Trust me, you would not enjoy this opera with everyone standing statically in their Greek robes. The singers, all of them are world-class. One of the best DVD operas available. Sung in the original French, the diction is so clear, I hardly needed the subtitles.
And, the subtitles in English only, are very easy to read."
Get the ArtHaus Version Instead
Ben Franklin | USA | 02/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Kultur version only has DD 2.0 sound while the ArtHaus version gives you the choice of PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, and DTS 5.1. The latter also has an hour long documentary, "Gluck the Reformer", which is one of the best extras I've seen on an opera DVD. On it, conductors William Christie and John Eliot Gardiner explain just what Gluck was reforming, director Claus Guth explains what was going on with the masked shadows, and the three principal singers explain further aspects of the story line. This version is available from many sources, like the UK Amazon.
In the US, in order to play the ArtHaus version, you will need to buy an all region DVD player that converts PAL to NTSC. You should have one on hand, in any case, for other DVDs that are only available in non US formats. Philips DVP5140 Multiformat DVD Player with DivX, MP3, Windows Media Support is inexpensive and does the job quite well. The reviews give information on how it can easily be made region free."
Intense Production of Great Opera
Dr. John W. Rippon | Florida | 02/09/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I would like to second the opinion of reviewer "jswell". I'm a great fan of Gluck and would also affirm the opinions of reviewer "C. Boerger" as to his significance in the history of opera. That said, I cannot praise enough this intense, rapidly moving production of Iphigenie en Tauride. I think the pantomimes on stage are in effect as important as the witches and ghost in Macbeth. They markedly add to the drama. Great production!"