Review: Iphigenia in Tauris (Canadian Opera Company)

The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Iphigenia in Tauris by Christoph Gluck was a bold experiment in the use of minimalism in opera. I say bold because most seasoned opera-goers are more accustomed to over-the-top rather than understated. The curtains come up on a completely black stage, the only contrast added by black-clad dancers writing the names of the members of the House of Atreus on the wall in white chalk.

The story is a Greek legend. Iphigenia was given as a human sacrifice by her father King Agamemnon to ensure favourable winds for his sailors on the eve of the Trojan War. Unbeknownst to the rest of her family, she is rescued by the Goddess Diana and brought to Tauris as her priestess. Her mother, Clytemnestra, murders King Agamemnon to avenge her daughter. Orestes, Iphigenia’s brother, kills his mother to avenge his father. Those among us who are dreading Thanksgiving dinner with the family, take heart. This story resets the bar for family dysfunction.

When the opera opens, Ipheginia has been a priestess in Tauris for fifteen years. Evil King Thaos, due to bad dreams involving assassination, has decreed that all strangers to the shores of Scythia will be used as human sacrifices. On cue, Orestes and his friend Pylades arrive. They are being pursued by the Furies, who are seeking vengeance for the murder of Clytemnestra. Iphigenia is ordered to murder the interlopers.

As you would expect from the COC, the singing was excellent. Susan Graham is very familiar with the role of Iphigenia, having sung it in the same production with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2006. Her comfort with the role was evident as she sang the very demanding role effortlessly and flawlessly.

Acclaimed Canadian singer Russell Braun was superb as usual in the role of Orestes. Before the performance began, the audience was informed that Braun was suffering from a cold and he asked for the audience’s understanding. The audience was delighted that he was still going to sing. While at times it was evident that he did not have the kind of power he is used to, he was still a delight to listen to.

I had not heard Joseph Kaiser (Pylades), also Canadian, sing before. I am delighted to have heard him now. While it is clear that Kaiser is not quite as seasoned as Graham or Braun, his voice is wonderfully dulcet and warm – definitely a performer to watch for.

The orchestra was also excellent in this performance. The balance between the orchestra and the singers was ideal. In previous COC productions that I’ve attended, the orchestra sometimes gave me the impression that they were playing for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I also very much enjoyed the use of ballet in the opera. This seems to be a growing and pleasant trend in COC productions.

Despite the high production value and the professionalism and talent of everyone involved, somehow this performance didn’t reel me in as much as opera usually does. Perhaps it had something to do with being immersed in a completely black set and costumes for two and a half hours. While the music was beautiful, something about this felt a bit flat for me. The COC’s program styles this as Gluck’s best opera. While I think that statement is arguable, you will no doubt enjoy this production if you are a fan of the composer.

Iphigenia in Tauris plays at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West, Toronto)

Show times are:

  • Sat. Oct. 1, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.
  • Tues. Oct. 4, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Fri. Oct. 7, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Wed. Oct. 12, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Sat. Oct. 15, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available online or at 416-363-8231 (1-800-250-4653).

People under the age of  30 can order Opera for a New Age tickets for just $22.

Photo Credit: 

Susan Graham as Iphigenia in the Canadian Opera Company production of Iphigenia in Tauris. Photo: John Currid

2 thoughts on “Review: Iphigenia in Tauris (Canadian Opera Company)”

  1. I agree with your review – last paragraph included – completely! Some of last year’s performances left me gaga, and this one yes, it could be partially due to the fact it was Gluck.
    Thanks for the review!

  2. See, I agree with you pretty much. It was a bold choice but for me the main issue lies in the opera itself, probably b/c I’m not a fan of Baroque. The minimalism of the set/blocking/production design only heightened the minimalism (and dullness) of the score and the plot. And of course the singing was flawless; Fans of Gluck will probably get more out of it than I did. RIGOLETTO RULES.

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