Christoph Willibald Gluck has a place in the history books for a few big hits and for the idea of reforming the ornate style of opera seria serious opera in the 18th century, replacing it with a more natural ideal of melody. This reputation has rested on a very few pieces, and both bibliographic control and recorded explorations of Gluck's music are perhaps more sparse than for any other major composer.
I have a personal criterion for judging sopranos in modern recordings of any role that Maria Callas excelled in: If you can beat Callas, you are gold. And despite her achievements in bel canto roles (most of which I find uninteresting, either dramatically or as music), I still think that Callas’s greatest gift to the world of opera, particularly opera in Italy, was to point out to the entire country and the world how much more there was in roles like Elvira in I Vespri Siciliani, Cheribini’s Medea, Iphigénie in this opera, and yes, even Lady Macbeth than had been previously thought.
The opera is starring countertenor Valer Sabadus - one of opera's most exciting newcomers - now exclusively signed to Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, a division of Sony Classical. Christoph Willibald Gluck, widely known for fundamentally reforming the 'opera seria' wrote some of the greatest and exemplary masterpieces of this great genre before he started his famous reform of the opera. This makes this work a fascinating and enlightening piece in the puzzle for the evolution of opera and the eminent character Gluck. Gluck's setting of La Clemenza was first performed in Naples in 1752, ten years before his first reform opera.
Gluck‘s wonderful but neglected 1774 opera Iphigénie en Tauride, inspired by the Greek legend, is treated with forceful and convincing simplicity in Klaus Guth‘s revolutionary production staged at the Zurich Opera House. The psychological drama in a tense atmosphere of fears and traumas is underlined by Guth‘s use of huge masks and enclosed spaces. Conductor William Christie and his typically transparent but never cold orchestral sound perfectly match the descriptive elements in Gluck’s score, while the Armenian mezzosoprano Juliette Galstian as a fabulously good Iphigénie, the leading American opera baritone Rodney Gilfry as Oreste and the deceased South African tenor Deon van der Walt as Pylade head a superb cast.
This live 3 CD set dramatically brings this rare opera to life, set in the 5th Century A.D, shortly before the fall of the West Roman Empire and certainly contains plenty of intrigue and drama. Although not as successful as Orfeo it contains many fine moments and this recording, in which Andreas Stoehr conducts a first rate cast, should introduce more opera listeners to this fine work.
Gardiner illuminates Alceste's subtle colors and inflections, assisted by von Otter, whose perceptive performance as Alceste is one of emotional sincerity and spot-on vocal accuracy.
It is extremely difficult nowadays to reproduce the sound castrato singers where capable of doing at their time and, too often, one finds voices that are too nasal or merely good falsettos. But in many of the performances in this CD one can let the imagination wander and almost imagine you are in the 18th century. In particular, the performance of James Bowmann is outstanding. Also very special the performace of Charpentier 'Salve Regina' by Gerard Lesne and the others; this of course enhanced by the exquisite sensibility of the director Jordi Saval. Also, the duo of Derek Lee Ragin and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska in 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is so exquisite it brings tears to your eyes. (Carmen E. Alvarez)