Monday 18 April 2016

Small scale, yet intense - Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride at the Drayton Arms

Turiya Haudenhuyse, Jerome Knox - Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride - Euphonia - credit: Stephanie Franklin
Turiya Haudenhuyse, Jerome Knox
Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride - Euphonia - credit: Stephanie Franklin
Gluck Iphigénie en Tauride; Turiya Haudenhuyse, Jerome Knox, Joseph Doody, Samuel Oram, Alisdair Kitchen; Euphonia at the Drayton Arms
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Creditable and vigorously intense account of Gluck's tragédie lyrique

Small scale and pub opera seems to be getting more adventurous in the choice of repertory. We recently heard Pop-Up Opera in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi and on 13 April 2016 we went to the theatre at the Drayton Arms pub for Euphonia's performance of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride as part of Euphonia's Spring opera season. Euphonia's artistic director Alisdair Kitchen directed, designed and was music director, whilst Laurie O'Brien was assistant music director and pianist. Turiya Haudenhuyse was Iphigénie, Jerome Knox was Oreste, Joseph Doody was Pylade, Samuel Oram was Thoas with Jennifer Coleman and Sophie Dicks as priestesses and Edward Jowle as a Scythian guard. The opera was sung in French (with English surtitles).

Gluck's opera is remarkably suited to this type of enterprise. With no major action and little reliance on grand ceremonial the opera relies very much on the interaction between the characters (in a poor performance it can seem to be a piece where nothing happens), and reducing it to just seven singers does little violence to the plot.

The theatre at the Drayton Arms is a large, roughly rectangular space with the audience seated at one of the narrow ends (on benches apparently upholstered with old denim). The opera was performed in the black playing area, with no set apart from the remaining Victorian details in the found space, which was dressed with table, chairs, candles (real) and a large ceremonial bowl.

In dramaturgical terms this worked well and Gluck's opera needs little more, but acoustically the opera needed more set dressing. It turns out that the theatre with its bare, hard walls was quite lively acoustically and when the singers got going we regretted the lack of more soft furnishings to dampen the sound. This might sound like a small even trivial point but when performed at modern pitch, the roles of Oreste and Iphigenie sit quite high. Though neither Turiya Haudenhuyse nor Jerome Knox ever seemed to be over singing, the liveliness of the room meant that it seemed as if they were trying too hard. You wanted to say to them 'relax' but I realise that the effect was more acoustical. In the end, though, this as a very loud performance.

Once one adjusted to this there was much to enjoy.
Whilst the performance style was vigorous and robust, all the young cast seemed to understand that the knack of Good Gluck is the combination of expressive line and good words. Thankfully there was little in the way of nasty bulges and choppy phrasing. The opera was performed in highly creditable, expressive and comprehensible French. Turiya Haudenhuyse in particular seemed to have the knack also of the correct placement of the voice for this repertoire, so her dialogue never seemed too wide or open but had just the right nasal tang to it.

Gluck does not have to be sung on a small scale (just listen to Regine Crespin's live recording from the Teatro Colon, which is available on YouTube) and Turiya Haudenhuyse was a gloriously rich Iphigénie, her voice combining a smooth lower register with a vibrant yet easy top. She had the right gravity of manner and intensity. Jerome Knox as Oreste perhaps was over vigorous at times, but never too much so, and like Haudenhuyse he brought a nice intensity to the role. He and Haudenhuyse developed a strong relationship so that there was a real tension to the plot, will she recognise him in time? Which made the end suitably cathartic.

The other major relationship is between Oreste and Pylade. It is clear from the libretto and Gluck's treatment of it that some sort of relationship between the two was intended. Jerome Knox and Joseph Doody creating something which was perhaps closer to intense bromance than romance, but what counted was the secure feeling of a long term, intimate relationship. Joseph Doody had the knack of the room's acoustic and his solo moments, when he sang quietly, were lovely. Pylade is a high tenor part and Doody had a nice ease and freedom here.

Samuel Oram was a young, vigorous and rather neurotic Thoas, his obsession with killing all strangers in line with the prophecy being all of a piece with his other obsessive behaviour. Jennifer Coleman and Sophie Dicks were the hard-working priestesses, taking the chorus parts too and forming a sympathetic yet characterful back-drop to the main action, and participating in the ritual with a calm dignity which was entirely apposite. At the end one of them, I am not sure which singer was which, was possessed by the Goddess Diana, a neatly effective solution doe the dea ex machina problem. Edward Jowle was the Scythian guard (and chorus too), a strong but somehow sympathetic presence.

Shorn of the orchestral colours, Gluck's music can seem a little bare. Yet Laurie O'Brien on piano made it remarkably expressive and the great moments such as Iphigénie's aria O malheureuse Iphigenie still told.

It is to the company's great credit that they produced such a remarkably powerful account of the opera. Though slightly cut, the first half just flew by and the performance brought a wonderful intensity to Gluck's music, with nary a titter moment in sight (always a danger with small scale performance).

Recommended recording:
Gluck Iphigénie en Tauride - Diana Montague, Thomas Allen, Orchestre de l'Opera de Lyon, John Elliot Gardiner

Elsewhere on this blog:

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou, Robert, for this attentive and nuanced reflection on the production. I curate the work we put on at the Drayton Arms Theatre, and love working with the Euphonia team. Your feedback on the acoustic is very valuable - I will talk to those who know better than I and see if we can improve it for future productions.


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