Opera review: Iphigénie en Tauride, Byre Theatre

GLUCK’S quest to reform 18th century opera was perhaps no better achieved than in Iphigénie en Tauride, where the core of expression is harnessed within a musical score that blurs the edges of set numbers, and introduces instrumental writing that amplifies both psychological and literal parameters of the story.


Byre Theatre, St Andrews

Rating: ***

The issue these days is to try and present that in a meaningful way to a modern audience.

The solution adopted by Byre Opera – the St Andrews University-led group that presents opera under the university’s current lease scheme to bring the Byre Theatre back to life – was to apply utter simplicity on stage and, with the help of the period instrument band Ars Eloquentiae, deliver Gluck’s music with a fiery, but eloquent spontaneity.

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The opera takes place in what is now Crimea. Iphigénie, a priestess in a society where women live like nuns and the men as guerrilla protecters, feels strangely drawn to Orestes, one of two “outsiders” captured from a shipwreck, who turns out to be her long-lost brother.

Jane Pettegree’s production was wisely unpretentious, allowing the largely student chorus to sing with purity and affection, though the spareness of the set and slow, stylised choreography was an overcooling factor. Andrew McTaggart’s considerable experience illuminated his casting as Thoas, and Ronald McCusker’s Orestes revealed an emerging voice. As Iphigénie, Caroline Taylor was beautifully pure, but lost beneath the band. Thoughtful performances, too, from Chris Huggon as Pylades and Graham Dalton as the Henchman. Michael Downes conducted a performance that highlighted the suppleness and subtlety of the music.

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