THEATRE Theatre Reviews Iphigénie en Tauride by Gluck New Theatre Cardiff REVIEWS

Iphigénie en Tauride

New Theatre

Too sad for words

A tragedy is defined as a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force, as destiny, and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror. Iphigénie en Tauride by Gluck is based on the Greek tragedy by Euripides. This particular production by Welsh National Opera in cooperation with Opera Zuid is all of the above, but it is also gentle and moving and beautifully done. It is a revival of a production directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser first performed by WNO in 1992.

The opera opens on a sad, grey scene. The set by Christian Rätz comprises two enormous, movable flats that act like walls, closing in on the protagonists; they also seem to convey the sky, the sea, falling rain or rolling hills, depending on the lighting, by Hervé Audibert, and their position. All is stripped back to the simplest level. Iphigénie, played by Anne Murray, sits alone, obviously very forlorn, holding a knife. A storm erupts and the chorus of fellow priestesses join her in obvious panic and terror. The bleak scene is set.

Iphigénie and her brother Oreste (Andrew Schroeder) are of a family that cannot escape tragedy; Iphigénie, destined to be sacrificed to Artemis by her father Agamemnon, was rescued by the goddess Diana, but has had to sacrifice humans on the island of Tauros for the past fifteen years because the King, Thoas, played by David Kempster, believes that any foreigner landing on his island must be killed, or he will die. Oreste meanwhile is fleeing the Furies as he has killed his mother, Clytemnestra, after seeing her murder his father. He travels with his lifelong friend Pylade (Paul Nilon) and they come to the island.

The emotional theme is set by the end of Act One. The poignant and ironic situation is clear and obvious and strong, the sister is now about to kill the brother. The sadness is compounded by the fact that they do not recognise each other; they have not met for fifteen years and he believes her dead. Both wish to die to be free of their torment and anguish and Pylade will gladly die to save Oreste. All is bleak and yet the music and singing are rich and focus the attention of the audience on the singers.

Despite the story that unfolds there is a pleasure to be had from this performance as the music and the singing are so good. There are times when the beautiful harmonies of the female chorus and of Oreste and Pylade lull you into an acceptance of their fate. The costume by Etienne Couléon is grey for the most part, and the occasional appearance on the set of red and yellow therefore has greater effect.

The siblings recognise each other at a crucial moment and Diana (Camilla Roberts), dressed starkly in white and red, comes to their rescue at the end. She appears as if by magic. With Thoas dead they are free to return to Greece, but we feel nothing but pity for them as the curtain drops. This is an excellently crafted production on all levels. © JD

“Iphigénie en Tauridet” is at the New Theatre Cardiff on the 30th September and 2nd of October, 2004.

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