Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 - 1787)
Iphigénie en Tauride (1779)
Juliette Galstian (mezzo) - Iphigénie; Rodney Gilfry (baritone) - Oreste; Deon van der Walt (tenor) - Pylade; Anton Scharinger (baritone) - Thoas; Martina Jankova (soprano) - Diane; others
Chorus, Ballet School and Supernumerary Association of the Zurich Opera House, Orchestra ”La Scintilla” of the Zurich Opera House/William Christie
Stage Director: Claus Guth; Stage and Costume Designer: Christian Schmidt; Lighting Designer: Jürgen Hoffmann; Dramaturgy: Bettina Auer; Choreography: Helge Letonia.
Directed for TV and Video by Thomas Grimm
rec. live, Zurich Opera House, 2001
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Picture format: 16:9; Subtitles: FR, GB, DE, ES, IT; Region Code: 0
ARTHAUS 100 377 [108:00]

Gluck’s operas have always given me a feeling of distancing, even alienation or abstraction. At the same time few composers have written such noble and such intensely beautiful music with a kind of dramatic truth built in. The action in most Gluck operas is rather low-key and the dramatic pulse is slow. So my reaction to Gluck is ambivalent.  

The work here under scrutiny is familiar to me, since I saw it at the Drottningholm Court Theatre in a historically informed production conducted by Arnold Östman back in the late 1980s; then again several years later in a concert performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with Deon van der Walt, as here, as Pylade. I also own the Gardiner recording with Diana Montague and Thomas Allen. Musically those three were/are superb in almost every respect - Montague was even Iphigénie in Amsterdam and Hillevi Martinpelto took that role at Drottningholm. In that respect the present DVD is just as good. William Christie seems to do just about everything right, whether he conducts French baroque, Handel, Mozart or Gluck. Tempos are well chosen, the playing of the orchestra first class and he exposes both the dramatic and epic qualities of the score. In the title role we hear the Armenian mezzo-soprano Juliette Galstian. She is fabulously good: charismatic, a warm expressive voice and a deep insight into the character’s predicament. Rodney Gilfry’s Oreste is also outstanding: a superb actor with a great voice that can express a myriad feelings. Deon van der Walt, who was one of the greatest lyric tenors of his generation, is also excellent as Pylade. With a supporting cast boasting names of the calibre of Anton Scharinger and Martina Jankova this issue is a match for those mentioned above and a couple of others as well.
Is there a hang-up? For me there is. We have grown accustomed to operas - and plays as well - being transported to the present time and in more or less obscure settings. This is what happens in this production. Add to this the introduction of ‘shadow-characters’, actors with enormous grotesque heads, imitating or rather mirroring the main characters - and Agamemnon and Clytemnestre, who are important in other plays by Euripides. They are presumably brought in to clarify things but I can’t help feeling that they do the opposite. I am normally fully satisfied just to listen to Iphigénie in a sound recording and follow the proceedings in a libretto. Here with optional subtitles in French, English, German, Spanish and Italian one doesn’t need a printed libretto. That said, there is a risk that one will be confused by the visuals.
I love being able to recommend a recording wholeheartedly. Here I have to give a warning: Approach with caution.
Göran Forsling

Approach with caution.