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This concentrated, closed world was reflected in the striking design for Robert Carsen's new production at London's Royal Opera House (seen on Saturday 29 September 2007). Tobias Hoheisel has designed a plain grey box of a set, with simple black costumes for the singers. This concentrates the drama wonderfully on the principals. During the overture the dancers and actors ran madly about the stage, displaying the production's principal weaknesses -- the banishment of the chorus to the wings and their replacement by actors and dancers performing Philippe Giraudeau's uninspiring choreography.

The ensemble chalk up Iphigenia's name on the back wall and then during Iphigenia's recitation of her dream of her parents, chalk up the names of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, later going on wash the names off the walls. This use of chalk and of water was a very effective theatrical device.

As Iphigenia, Susan Graham was nearly ideal. She sings the music with a wonderful sense of line, but a line imbued with a great deal of passion. This passion is reflected in her physical movement; you can hear and see that she feels everything intensely. Graham has sung the title role in this production in its two previous outings, in Chicago and San Francisco, but there was no sense of routine or of tiredness. Everything was fresh and intense.

This intensity was matched by Simon Keenlyside as Orestes. Keenlyside was new to the production in London but integrated seamlessly. In fine vocal health, his voice had a sheen and beauty to it which has sometimes been missing in the past. Like Graham, he is a very physical artist and his relationship to both Iphigenia and to Pylades was reflected in his body. The one weakness in the production's depiction of Orestes was that Philippe Giraudeau's choreography for the furies, who haunt Orestes, was frankly not very fearsome.

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Copyright © 3 October 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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