Iphigénie en Tauride

The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, February 12.

The word operatic connotes grandeur and spectacle, usually to the point of extravagance, and under that narrow understanding of opera, eighteenth-century composer Christoph Gluck’s musical dramas scarcely qualify. They were, in fact, a reaction against Gluck’s perception of the genre as, well, operatic: a hollow celebration of virtuosic but meaningless fireworks with no connection to story or character.

Gluck’s own operas, by contrast, are defiantly stripped down to their core elements—no coloratura flamboyance, no shaggy humor, just simple, sincere storytelling and a constant flow of elegantly emotional music. The relative austerity of it can be strange. At Iphigénie en Tauride, Sean pointed out that Gluck’s operas might, in some ways, be better suited for the concert hall than the stage because there’s so little action of any kind to depict. I see his point—and I’m not too fond of this particular production—but I’m loath to give up the quiet but poignant drama of long-exiled Iphigénie finding her similarly exiled little brother. There might not be any histrionic vocal embellishments to mark the occasion, but when it reaches its high points, it’s stirring all the same.