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Best of Gluck - scaled back to focus on the music
Christoph Willibald Gluck may not be the first composer who comes to mind if you're thinking about opera, so it was surprising when I researched his name to learn that he is credited with composing no fewer than 49 operas. Two of these are featured in the current production - Orphée et Euridice (1774) and Iphigénie en Tauride (1779).
In this unique production, the two operas have been pared back - keeping the context and the best music, while reducing the performance time to approximately two hours (plus a 20-minute interval).
Director Kate Millett has put a modern spin on operas that were based on ancient Greek tragedies by presenting the central characters in each as being in same-sex relationships, although, in a sense, this is not too far from the truth. In Orphée et Euridice, Orphée is traditionally played as a 'woman in trousers' role - that is, one in which a woman portrays a male character. And in Iphigénie en Tauride, Oreste and Pylade are originally portrayed as close friends, prepared to die for one another.
Rada Tochalna as Amour
In Orphée et Euridice, Euridice (Louise Keast) is dying. Amour (Rada Tochalna) responds to Orphée's (Alison Lemoh) plea to remain with her wife, telling her she may go to the Underworld and return, on the condition that she not look at Euridice until they are back on Earth. Denied access to the Underworld by the Furies, Euridice is returned to Earth and delighted to see her beloved Orphée. Orphée, remembering the pledge she made to Amour, refuses to look at or touch Euridice. Euridice is understandably bewildered and devastated, stating that death is preferable to being without Orphée. Orphée finds herself unable to continue her isolation, and looks at Euridice - and again, Euridice dies. Orphée expresses her grief in the poignant aria J'ai perdu mon Euridice? (what shall I do without Euridice?), and resolves to kill herself, to rejoin her beloved. Amour reappears and decides to reward Orphée for her unfaltering love by bringing Euridice back to life.
Euridice (Louise Keast), left, and Orphée (Alison Lemoh), happy reunion
Mezzo soprano Lemoh was vocally solid in the demanding role of Orphée, until she reached the haunting aria J'ai perdu mon Euridice, at which point she produced a goosebump-inducing performance. Tochalna appears to sing as easily as she can speak. She opens her mouth and the music that flows from it is something extraordinary. She also has a grace and ease on stage that made her a perfect Amour.
It was a memorable work, but was almost overshadowed by the powerful Iphigénie en Tauride, after intermission.
High priestess Iphigenia (Erin Towns) in the dramatic opening to Iphigénie en Tauride
Iphigénie en Tauride has a dramatic opening, with Iphigenia, the High Priestess, (Erin Towns) wearing bloodstained clothes. It is her role to dispatch the beings who are ruled as having no place in Tauris, on the orders of Thoas, King of Tauris. Iphigenia came to Tauris as an act of the goddess Diana when her father Agamemnon attempted to offer her as a sacrifice.
Enter two young Greek men who have been found shipwrecked, Orestes (Finn Gilheany) and his friend Pylades (Jonathan Rumsam), who are quickly sentenced to death by Tauris. Iphigenia is drawn to Orestes, as he reminds her of her brother. She tells the men that she can persuade Thoas to spare one of the men, and chooses Orestes.
Orestes (Finn Gilheany) left, and Pylades (Jonathan Rumsam)
However, Orestes changes places with Pylades, insisting he couldn't live without him.
At the sacrificial altar, an exchange between Orestes and Iphigenia convinces the two that they are, in fact, brother and sister. The happy reunion is short-lived, however, as Thoas enters the scene, insistent that his will be carried out by Iphigenia. Pylades rushes on stage and quickly resolves the issue by cutting down Thoas.
In Iphigénie en Tauride, we saw strong performances from the two leads - Erin Towns as Iphigenia and Finn Gilheany as Orestes. Towns has a strong, compelling voice, but equally, she was able to convey the drama of the conflicted Iphigenia. Finn Gilheany has a rich, mellow tone, a delight to the ear.
A word of praise too for the ensemble, who play a significant role in each opera. There was strong cohesion and clever choreography that made good use of the limited stage space.
This is minimalist opera, with no sets to speak of, and simple costumes. In a way, this makes it seem more 'real', more tangible and relatable. The theatre is set up with seating on three sides of the stage, so the audience is almost within reach of the performers.
I enjoyed the music and the experience, as I think anyone with an appreciation of opera would.
There are two further performances scheduled: 8pm on Friday 2nd November, and 2pm on Sunday 4th November.
Tickets are full - $40, concession - $35 (plus booking fee). Click here to buy tickets online.
The operas are sung in French with English surtitles.
The images in this article were supplied. Image credit: Burke Photography.