Notes and Editorial Reviews
It was in this opera that John Eliot Gardiner made his Covent Garden debut; his dramatic concentration and his powerful intellectual control make him an ideal interpreter of the score.
The praises of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride are sung a good deal more often than the opera itself. Written for the Paris Opera in 1779, it represents the consummation of his 'reformist' ideals through the marriage with the traditions of the French tragedie lyrique. No other work of Gluck's is planned and executed with such breadth or such purposefulness. But it is a difficult work to carry off in performances—or indeed recording. There are at present two versions in the catalogue, one aged (a 1952 recording under Giulini on an EMI
Electrola import), the other distinguished exclusively through the Thoas of Fischer-Dieskau (Orfeo). This new one goes a long way towards answering JBS's plea, in his review of the Orfeo set, for a good new recording.
It was in this opera that John Eliot Gardiner made his Covent Garden debut in 1973; his dramatic concentration and his powerful intellectual control make him an ideal interpreter of the score, and evidence of this comes speedily in the present recording with the storm that breaks—equally in Iphigenie's soul and in the seas off the Scythian coast—at the beginning of the First Act. The effect is formidable. Gardiner's direction is impressive too in the impassioned recitative that is so strong a feature throughout this opera, and in the accompaniments to the arias, so rich in emotional suggestion; the dances too are done with grace and, for the Scythians in Act 1, great spirit. The orchestra is not a period one, which is in my view a pity, because it cannot articulate the music quite as Gluck intended. But it is an efficient and responsive group.
There has long been a tradition of casting Iphigenie as a high mezzo, although the part is in true soprano range. Diana Montague does many fine things. Her voice has nobility and intensity, and in the middle registers one could hardly ask for a truer, cleaner sound, particularly at mezzo-forte and above. Possibly the top of the voice does not have quite the support it needs to sustain her great Act 1 monologue nor indeed to lend true grandeur—which surely is what Gluck wanted—to the wonderful ''O malheureuse Iphigenie'' in Act 2. A singer here needs to be able to make an expressive virtue of the difficulty, and Montague does not quite do that. There is plenty of feeling in the last-act ''Je t'implore, je tremble'' (a Bach parody), but not much of vocally expressed urgency. The tone quality is apt to falter in soft music, and in the top register the vibrato sometimes becomes obtrusive. In short, a brave and musicianly performance, but not quite on the scale this exceptionally testing role ideally needs. Of the men, Thomas Allen as Oreste is outstanding, a thrillingly alive and passionate performance of a part that seems too small. ''Dieux qui me poursuivez'' is duly intense, while the darkening of tone in ''Le calme rentre dans mon coeur'' (with the quietly agitated violas telling us that his reassurance is false) drives its point home. And every word of his French can be heard and understood. John Aler sings his air at the beginning of Act 2 a trifle stiffly, without quite the expressive freedom it ought to have; but he seems to warm, and with his easy and natural delivery, and his sweet, flexible tone, he makes a persuasive Pylade. I found Rene Massis's Thoas somewhat unsubtle, even for a barbarian tyrant, though I suppose the blustery delivery and occasionally rather hollow tone serve reasonably well. All the smaller parts are capably done. The sound is good, if a shade string-heavy and blended as modern orchestras are liable to be; generally the balance tends to favour the voices.'
Stanley Sadie, GRAMOPHONE (6/1986)
Works on This Recording
Iphigénie en Tauride by Christoph W. Gluck
Thomas Allen (Baritone),
René Massis (Bass Baritone),
John Aler (Tenor),
Nancy Argenta (Soprano),
Sophie Boulin (Mezzo Soprano),
Colette Alliot-Lugaz (Soprano),
Danielle Borst (Soprano),
Diana Montague (Mezzo Soprano),
René Schirrer (Bass Baritone)
John Eliot Gardiner
Lyon Opera Orchestra
Written: 1778-1779; Vienna, Austria
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