Iphigénie en Tauride – Everything old is new again at SF Opera

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

SUSAN GRAHAM, mezzo-soprano – another day for Iphigénie, en Tauride. Photos by Terrence McCarthy

So it was written, so it was done. The 18th Century is once again cool and Iphigénie en Tauride is way-avant-garde at San Francisco Opera. A co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Royal Opera, Covent Garden, this 228-years and few weeks old composition is as captivating as it was the night it premiered in Paris with Queen Marie Antoinette in attendance. As patron (and former student) of the composer, Christoph Willibald Gluck, her majesty would have thrilled at the revolutionary components of the opera’s musical structure and delighted in the Company’s novel sense of fashion and chic.


San Francisco Opera concludes its summer series with this glorious example of Rococo opera and we gasp at the production’s equally daring designs, stage direction and choreography. Under the baton of conductor Patrick Summers the cast and choruses are straight from the heights of Olympus itself. Dance Master Lawrence Pech assumes command over the choreography established by Phillipe Giraudeau. Pech’s on-stage Euripidean Chorus is mostly of the non-singing variety; a lythe and histrionic ensemble reperesenting Scythian (now southern Russian) warriors, maidens, votives of Diana, and a flutter of Furies. Gluck’s Chorus, along with the goddess-like presence of Adler Fellow Heidi Melton (as “Diana”, goddess of the hunt) remain in civic and celestial harmony off-stage.

LAWRENCE PECH, Choreographer and DIANA, Protectress – A touch of the divine

San Francisco Opera fans know and adore mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. A former Merola Opera Program alumna, Ms. Graham was last seen as “Sister Helen” in Jack Heggie’s DEAD MAN WALKING. Her vocal rendering of “Iphigénia” is lyrically powerful and consistent. Under the brilliant eye of director Jean Michel Criqui she presents an intelligible array of gargantuan complexities as only the Ancient Greeks and Euripides could conjur. Another of Susan Graham’s performances as “Iphigénie” was captured live at the 2000 Salzburg Festival and released as a CD on the Orfeo lable. In SF Opera’s 2008 summer season she will sing the title role in Handel’s ARIODANTE.

SUSAN GRAHAM – Iphigénie en Tauride. Photos by Terrence McCarthy

Bo Skovhus as “Oreste” is a Danish-variety heldenbaritone. Mr. Skovhus is capable of large and volatile output and yet calls up a tender sweetness. The handsome Skovhus is also possessed of a trim athletic build and is at home with such sexually conflicted characters as DON GIOVANNI and BILLY BUDD. Teamed with the equally appealing presence and musicianship of Paul Groves as “Pylades”, the scene and duet of “Ah! Mon ami” pushed a number of buttons throughout the house. Each character is willing to sacrifice his life for the other. But Diana, goddess of the moon, will have none of it. She has much more in mind for both of them. Paul and Bo are that rare team of tenor and baritone where vocal timbres and spiritual temperaments spark fantastical wonderment and heart-felt longing. Likewise, the team of Robert Merrill and Richard Tucker created many similar moments in such buddy-duets as, “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s opera Les Pecheurs des Perles .

PYLADE & ORESTE – big task, big sell

Mark S. Doss was outstanding as “Thoas”. Mark’s strong and authoritative bass-baritone voice is rich and bright throughout the entire range, his warm vibrato sensual and inviting. He is a handsome and formidable presence, perfectly cast as the tormented King of Tauris who believes that ritual sacrifice must befall any alien attempting to enter his kingdom. In his Act One aria, “De noirs pressentiments mon âme intimidée”, Doss displayed the strapping bravado within his voice and the vigor and grandeur of a Classical actor. The proof is in the listening. Mark recently performed “Escamillo” (CARMEN) and “Alidoro” (LA CENERENTOLA) at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Complete renditions of the arias “Votre Toast” and “La Del Ciel” are available on Mr. Doss’ website .

MARK S. DOSS, bass-baritone – as Thoas, Roi de Tauride

To order tickets on-line:
Tuesday, June 26th, 8:00 PM
Friday, June 29th, 8:00 PM

Seán suggests the following CDs and DVDs for your enjoyment:

CDSUSAN GRAHAM, Arias by Berlioz
CDIPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE – Featuring Paul Groves and Susan Graham
DVDAÏDA – Featuring Mark S. Doss (Amonasro)
DVDWERTHER – Featuring Susan Graham (Charlotte)

See Seán’s recent articles:
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LA VIE EN ROSE (La Môme) – Biography of Edith Piaf – A Sensation at the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival
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THE DAMNATION OF FAUST – Absolute Heaven at Davies Symphony Hall
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LE PETIT TRIANON – San Francisco Artists Exhibit at Her Majesty’s Pleasure

San Francisco Sentinel’s Fine Arts Critic Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Ask him a question on AllExperts.com . If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: seanmartinfield@att.net.

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