Sunday, 20 March 2016

Women With Knives: Iphigenie en Tauride at Hall for Cornwall

No... I don't mean cutlery when I write "women with knives"... but a long lost phrase in my head to do with plots in opera. The English Touring Opera production of "Iphigenie en Tauride" provides "women with knives" in spades ... and axes... with its opening scene of human sacrifice on the shores of Tauride. The orchestra plays an overture whilst ladies dressed in impressive butcher aprons of bloodied white subdue their struggling but unseen captive and wield knives and axes, draining blood into bowls and through grills and chopping up various bits (again unseen but inferred) and thrusting them into sacks. Members of the Truro audience were heard complaining about the gore in the ice cream queue during the interval. But... naturally... I thought they did it rather well.

I think if I had any complaints about the violence it would be the inaccuracy of the torture of Orestes's friend Pylades, whose suffering as mimed by his tormentors would have deprived him of enough body parts to prevent his participation in the rest of the opera. In the spirit of crime review I must say... "If you are gonna show violence... make it relevant. You went a little over the top there, boys." And in the main the violence of this production is relevant I think. Gluck based his opera on the play by Euripedes in which the saved sacrificial victim, Iphigenie, is made a priestess by her saviour Diana and as such doomed to sacrifice any foreigner who steps on to the shores of the tyrant king Thoas. What follows is a catalogue of family disaster, culminating in Iphigenie finding herself about to sacrifice her own brother, Orestes. Labelled a tragedy and a melodrama, the company's own programme notes point to the Euripedes work as an anti-war drama. And my word, seen from that point of view it do fit in with the spirit and geography of the times.

I can't praise English Touring Opera highly enough. This is the third year we have managed to see one of their productions. Their sets and designs are necessarily stripped down but work well  given that, with us, they manage just two consecutive night in the theatre with a different performance each evening. Well that's a triumph of packing if nothing else. But above all the performances are smooth, the productions brave and the singing and orchestral work are good. I have to single out Catherine Carby as Iphigenie in this one: warm and singing beautifully. If you live far from metropolitan delights and miss an evening at the opera... you must look out for ETO.
I just wish we got a sample from their autumn tour as well ... but we never do.