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House of Agamemnon Musically Depicted


Detail from Duplessis portrait of Gluck
Detail from Duplessis portrait of Gluck

With an apology to the Classicists among the BMInt readers it’s probably safe to assert that for most of us, brushing up our Euripides through a lively musical entertainment seems preferable to witnessing a period staging in an amphitheater. Christoph Willibald Gluck must have thought so too, when he penned his tragédie en musique, Iphigénie en Tauride (Iphigenia in Tauris), for the Paris Opera in 1779.

The lively and surprisingly advanced French opera in four acts, gets a free concert performance (with English surtitles) on October 7th at 7:30 with New England Conservatory’s top singers and the NEC Philharmonia, conducted by Stephen Lord, and directed by NEC’s Opera Studies chair, Joshua Major. Readers can expect an excellent show from this crowd.

According to  Major, it contains “all the elements that continue to fascinate audiences to this day, in tabloids and soap operas as well as award-winning novels, plays, and films: unhappy families, mistaken identity, dream visions, murder, and stormy weather. And in the end, how else can a high priestess keep her dignity and sanity intact—after four acts full of twists and turns—but with the help of her goddess?”

Major added:

BMInt: Iphegenia consists of 4 acts and 45 numbers—how will we keep all the plot turns straight without scenery? 

JM: The narrative revolves around the relationship between the characters and the Gods they address. The action of the opera is advanced through a series of conversations which don’t need scenery to be illuminated and the extraordinary music. Between the music and the text, the story should be very clear. The plot is fairly simple and straightforward, though the background story of the house of Agamemnon is perhaps more complicated.

What does the stage director do in this concert version?

I direct in the same manner I direct a fully staged production. My job is essentially the same – to tell the story. I guide the singers to bring truth and specificity to their performances and in doing so clarify the story telling. We have rehearsed for a few weeks, just as we would a full scale production. One of my jobs is to make sure the music is at the center of the story telling. This heart wrenching story of guilt, absolution, friendship, familial bonds is breathtaking.

Do we see the ballet?

No, we will not see the ballet. The space and time does not allow for us to use dancers. I have tried to use the ‘ballet’ music to further the plot.

Will the projected titles be modern vernacular or authentic? Whose translation?

I hope a good combination. We are doing the translation in house.

What are the juiciest roles?

They are all very juicy roles. Thoas is perhaps the smallest part, but all 3 roles are extraordinary in their dramatic and musical demands.

Will the NEC Philharmonia be adopting period play?

You will have to ask Stephen Lord about this. [we will add Lord’s response]

How does this production play to the strengths of the NEC Opera Department?

It highlights some the level of talent that we are drawing at NEC. These are extraordinary singers who represent NEC and the opera department with aplomb.

Ensemble: NEC Philharmonia
Conductor: Stephen Lord
Director: Joshua Major

Iphigénie: Cheyanne Coss (Soprano)
Pylades: Rafael Delsid (Tenor)
Orestes: Junhan Choi (Baritone)
Thoas: Josh Quinn (Bass Baritone)

NEC’s Jordan Hall,
October 7, 2015 – 7:30PM


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