IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE
By Christoph Willibald Gluck
libretto by Nicolas-Francois Guillard
3, 5, 7 & 9 December 2014
City Recital Hall Angel Place
In 2014 Pinchgut Opera will perform Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. This is a masterwork, rarely performed and understood. 2014 marks 300 years since Gluck’s birth and we would like to mark this occasion with a work by a composer who is only remembered for a couple of pieces. Iphigénie en Tauride draws all of Gluck’s opera reforms to their natural conclusion and a work of great power and beauty is the result.
Iphigénie en Tauride is Gluck's most dramatically involving work. It is about familial love and deep friendship, but the waters run deep, and noble aims of sacrifice, duty and protection are played out within the taut drama. Containing much of Gluck's best music; the title character will be sung by Caitlin Hulcup who brought the title role of Griselda to us to great acclaim. We’ve been looking for a role to bring her back to our audience. Joining Caitlin will be Australian baritone Grant Doyle, Brisbane tenor Christopher Saunders, Sydney mezzo Margaret Plummer and Sydney bass baritone Christopher Richardson.
Pinchgut has assembled a wonderful team, the Orchestra of the Antipodes on period instruments and the acclaimed chorus Cantillation all under the baton of Co-Artistic Director and conductor Antony Walker. Artistic Director of Opera Queensland, Lindy Hume, together with set designer, Tony Assness (recently lauded for his party design scenes from the film, "The Great Gatsby") and costume designer, Alistair Trung, at the forefront of fashion, team up to bring you a beautiful, stylish and moving production of this deeply-felt Greek tragedy.
CAST & CREW
Select each for more information
Caitlin Hulcup is Iphigenie
Director, Lindy Hume
When Agamemnon gathered the Greek armies before the Trojan War, the goddess Diana (Diane) sent unfavorable winds to prevent them from sailing. Her oracle set a condition: to earn the right to sail forth, Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter. He accepted these terms and killed his young daughter Iphigenia (Iphigénie) on the altar. In his play Iphigenia in Tauris Euripides imagines that Diane saved Iphigénie and delivered her to distant Tauris (Tauride), where Iphigénie served the enemy Scythians as Diane’s high priestess— but Iphigénie’s family believed her dead.
Fifteen years later, a storm batters Diane’s temple at Tauride. Iphigénie and the other priestesses—all of them captives from Greece—ask the gods for safety and peace from the storms raging both outside and within their hearts. Iphigénie relates a dream: her home was destroyed; her father was killed by her mother, Clytemnestre, who gave her a dagger; her brother Oreste cried out to her for help, but she was forced to kill him. The priestesses grieve with Iphigénie and urge her not to lose hope that she will see Oreste again (“Ô toi qui prolongeas mes jours”).
The Scythian king, Thoas, comes to Iphigénie in despair, followed everywhere by omens and voices calling for his downfall. Oracles have ordered him to sacrifice every stranger to the country to end his torment. His soldiers come with news of new captives—two Greek men—and Thoas orders Iphigénie to kill them on the altar. The Greeks are brought in: one is half-mad, haunted by past crimes, the other defies Thoas. They are imprisoned as the Scythians call for blood.
The strangers are Oreste and his lifelong friend Pylade. Oreste, who has killed his mother and is pursued by the Furies, lives on the edge of madness; now he feels responsible for Pylade’s imminent death (“Dieux qui me poursuivez”). Pylade calms Oreste with the pledge that they will die together (“Unis dès la plus tendre enfance”). Pylade is taken away, and Oreste sinks gradually into sleep (“La calme rentre dans mon coeur”). But the Furies stalk him even in his dreams. He awakens from a nightmare to find Iphigénie standing before him. Without revealing her identity she questions him about the royal family in Mycène, and he tells her all: Clytemnestre murdered Agamemnon to avenge the death of Iphigénie, Oreste struck down Clytemnestre to avenge his father and then, he adds, Oreste killed himself. Iphigénie sends the stranger to be shackled to the altar, and—now without country, kindred or hope—mourns the loss of her family (“Ô malheureuse Iphigénie”).
Iphigénie feels a strong kinship with the prisoner (“D’une image, hélas!”). She resolves to save at least one of the captives and to send the survivor to Mycène with a letter for her sister, Electre. Pylade, who has been tortured, is reunited with Oreste, and Iphigénie tells them Oreste must live and carry the sealed letter (trio: “Je pourrais du tyran”). Pylade is happy to die for his friend’s life (“Ah! mon ami”). Oreste, determined that he himself should die, seizes the sacrificial knife and threatens to take his own life if Iphigénie will not spare Pylade. Iphigénie gives Pylade the letter and helps him escape.
Iphigénie tries repeatedly to perform the sacrifice, but she cannot bring herself to harm the stranger and cries out angrily against Diane (“Je t’implore et je tremble”). Oreste is brought in (“Que ces regrets touchant”). Touched by Iphigénie’s sadness and her concern for him, he tries to encourage her to do her duty, calling out in the final moment, “Iphigénie, beloved sister, thus also did you perish at Aulide.” Sister and brother realize the truth. Thoas bursts in: Iphigénie’s plot has been discovered. He orders the Greek killed immediately and is about to sacrifice Oreste himself when Pylade returns with Greek soldiers to save his friend. Thoas is killed in the fray, which is halted when Diane herself appears to pardon Oreste, quiet the Furies, set the Greek women free, and send prince and princess home to Mycène—and the first happiness they have known since before the Greeks set sail for Troy.
Rupert Christiansen asks why Gluck's tercentenary will pass by largely unheralded in 2014.
Reproduced from The Telegraph UK (5 January 2014)
Opera lovers had a bumper time of it in 2013, with jamborees marking the centenaries of three great masters Britten, Verdi and Wagner. This year it’s a shame that we’re not celebrating equally loudly the 300th birthday of another composer whose importance to the development of the art form can hardly be over-stated – Christoph Willibald Gluck, born in an obscure German principality near Nuremberg in 1714.
Apart from Orfeo ed Euridice – or rather its Housewives’ Choice favourite “Che faro?”, as sung by Kathleen Ferrier – nothing by Gluck has ever been widely popular and he will doubtless always remain a specialist taste.
One can immediately hear why: his greatest music is marked by a measured dignity that doesn’t offer easy entertainment or sensual charm for audiences craving instant gratification. A reformer by nature and a neo-classicist at heart, he deplored the florid excesses and amorous intrigues of conventional 18th-century opera and aspired in works such as Iphigénie en Tauride and Alceste to return to something redolent of the moral and spiritual grandeur of Greek tragedy.
Rather than showy arias designed to show off prima donnas’ techniques framed by fanciful plots, Gluck cultivated a purified style shaped by expressive declamation, dramatic dialogues and solemn choruses, underpinned by simple orchestration and unchromatic harmonies.
He could write wonderfully rich melodies too (emanating from the throat of a Régine Crespin, the aria “O malheureuse Iphigénie” from Iphigénie en Tauride can be even more heart-rending than Orfeo’s “Che faro?”), but they are conceived not as applause-seeking highlights so much as soliloquies charged with emotional and spiritual intensity. One might sum it up by saying that Gluck took opera seriously.
As a result, his writings as well as his scores have certainly been of enormous influence: on Mozart in Idomeneo and the Masonic passages in Die Zauberflöte; on Rossini in his serious operas; on the Berlioz of Les Troyens, on Wagner in his quest for the high moral ground. Yet today, even though his modestly scaled works are relatively inexpensive to mount and easy to cast, opera houses seem to shy away.
There are reasons for this. The absence of any sensational element means that he’s not good box office, and modern producers don’t know how to handle such spare and chaste material. Another drawback, baffling to our contemporary sensibility, is his habit of arbitrarily introducing a God ex machina to resolve tragic dilemmas in his final scenes.
One notable recent attempt to grapple with these problems was made by the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, whose danced versions of Orfeo and Iphigénie en Tauride carried considerable force and gave the dramas a new theatrical dimension.
Some performance of Orfeo ed Euridice are planned for the Buxton Festival in the summer, and English Pocket Opera will be staging the same work with children at Central St Martin’s College of Art later this month.
But it’s sad that at his tercentenary, the oeuvre of this seminal figure isn’t being explored in any depth and that a major operatic institution such as Glyndebourne hasn’t had the courage to honour his achievement by engaging the likes of Sarah Connolly or Alice Coote – superb Gluckian interpreters both – for the title-roles of Alceste or Iphigénie en Tauride.
‘Perfection’, said Shaw, ‘is inexhaustible. If ever a nation tried to extinguish Gluck, one of the attainers of perfection, by the simple British method of ignoring him, that nation is ourselves.’ Shaw, one of the most vividly communicative of Gluck enthusiasts, was here being excessively harsh to the British: Gluck, at the time of his death perhaps the world’s most famous opera composer, and now (I believe) opera’s most neglected and misunderstood creator of front-rank importance, has since 1787 been ignored in Britain neither more nor less than elsewhere.
In any discussion or examination of Gluck, paradoxes and contradictions abound. In the history and development of the operatic medium he stands as one of the key figures – the Bavaria-born composer, Bohemia-raised, Prague- and Milan-trained, who in Vienna in middle age succeeded, with Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and Alceste (1767), in imbuing Italian opera seria with a new expressive directness and intensity, and who then, transferring his activities to Paris a decade later, effected a parallel achievement in the medium of the French serious opera.
His influence on Mozart was second only to Haydn’s (the Commendatore scene of Don Giovanni surely reflects Mozart’s thrilled response to the shattering, world-destroying final scenes of Gluck’s ballet score Don Juan and opera Armide). That on Berlioz is well-known, but then Gluck has stirred the enthusiasm of generations of composers, and always inspired the commitment of top conductors and singers. Yet, given that his body of works is far more various than generally recognised, the vast majority of those works are neglected. Orfeo and (to a lesser extent) Iphigénie en Tauride apart, most lie unperformed – in the case of several key early works, it could hardly be otherwise, since they can still be found only in manuscript.
In the minds of opera-company managements, Gluck is – Orfeo, again, apart – a great theatre-emptier. In the eyes and ears of many audience-members, critics too, he is, to put it bluntly, a great bore.
But to Gluckians the situation is mystifying as well as saddening. Part of its explanation may be that Gluck appears to have stood on the edge of various post-war fashions and gained little advantage from them. Before the last war Orfeo was the earliest opera in the repertory. Since then, the vast, previously little-explored continent of Early Music has been opened up. The earliest Italian beginnings of opera have been rediscovered; and Monteverdi’s Orfeo now claims the position, and status, that once belonged to Gluck’s.
Another explanation may lie in the very historical importance with which he is always credited. In the history books he is the Great Reformer of 18th-century opera – of the Italian opera seria, the supposedly overblown, immoral, tradition-riddled form in decline by the time Orfeo ed Euridice was first performed. Gluck’s preface to the 1769 first publication of Alceste (nowadays, however, assumed to have been written by Calzabigi, Gluck’s Orfeo and Alceste librettist) is one of the key documents of opera history, endlessly quoted, particularly the opening phrase: ‘When I undertook to write the music for Alceste, I resolved to divest it entirely of all those abuses… which have so long disfigured Italian opera and made of the most splendid and beautiful of spectacles the most ridiculous and wearisome’ – and the definition of Gluck’s overriding goal as the achievement of ‘a beautiful simplicity’. But in recent decades the same Early Music movement has successfully revived opere serie by Scarlatti, Handel (the greatest of all opera seria composers), Hasse, Jommelli, Traetta and others. These have won legions of new admirers; and so the whole idea that opera seria was always per se a hopelessly decadent art-form verging on dramatic meaninglessness because of rigid formal precepts and dependence on singers’ show-off has come under question.
Best now, I believe, to get rid of Gluck the Reformer altogether. Only then shall we fully re-possess Gluck the Innovator, Gluck the Revolutionary, the Gluck who inspired Berlioz, Shaw and all the others, the Gluck whose greatest feats of music-theatre combine ‘beautiful simplicity’ and an awesome, at times overwhelming theatrical power.
He was certainly not an early enactor of Reform. Born in 1714, he had his childhood in northern Bohemia after his father, a forester and huntsman of Bohemian origins, took up service there. (Czech was his first language, and his German, and subsequently Italian and French, were always said to be imperfect.) Gluck’s musical education and earliest musical experiences reflect the cosmopolitanism that was to mark his career: he studied and earned his living first in Prague, then Vienna, before departing for Milan. There he steeped himself in Italian musical modes and manners, being particularly influenced by Sammartini, and having his first opera, Artaserse (1741), performed. Thereafter he spent time in London (where he struck up a warm relationship with Handel), Vienna, Dresden, Prague, Copenhagen, and Naples, for much of the time as conductor of and composer for a travelling opera troupe, which he had joined in 1746.
Marriage to a wealthy Viennese merchant’s daughter, in 1752, enabled him to settle in that city; he became attached to the court, enjoying the inestimably valuable patronage of Durazzo, the Genoese nobleman and Maria Theresa’s theatre administrator. The Empress herself never really came to admire Gluck, though he taught her children and eventually won high office from her; she preferred the collaborations of her court poet Metastasio and Hasse – the ‘old guard’, also resident in Vienna – to the ‘avant garde’ that was forming around Durazzo, and which, alongside Gluck, included the Livornese Calzabigi and the Florentine dancer and choreographer Angiolini. In spite of this, Vienna was to be his home for the remaining 35 years of his life, even during the 1770s, when he was bent on conquest of the Paris operatic stage.
The extent and variety of Gluck’s compositional experience as man of the theatre are insufficiently recognised: how can they be, when the works of the first two decades of his career, the 1740s and ‘50s, are still so little known? During this time he produced Italian opere serie (the astonishing La Semiramide riconosciuta of 1748, his setting of an extant Metastasio libretto, provoked the poet to describe the music as ‘arcivandalistica insopportabile’ – ‘vandalistic to the last degree, unbearable’!); pièces d’occasion, such as serenate and feste teatrali; new airs for the Parisian opéra-comique texts that became fashionable in Vienna; and much music for the ballet. All this activity was carried on before, alongside, and even after the creation of Don Juan, the Molière-inspired bombshell of a pantomime-ballet that Gluck and Angiolini dropped on an unsuspecting Vienna Burgtheater on 17 October 1761, and then of Orfeo the following year, the opera that was later taken to mark the start of the whole Reform movement.
Yet well before its premiere, opere serie such as Semiramide riconosciuta, La clemenza di Tito (1752) and L’innocenza giustificata (1755) reveal Gluck as not just an exceptional master of the form, but one determined to bend the rules in the service of dramatic heightening. And three years after Orfeo ed Euridice, he could ‘backslide’ with Telemaco, an opera seria of exceptional freedom and variety, in its way deeply stamped by the new ‘beautiful simplicity’ purveyed in Orfeo. Julian Rushton has called the monumental Alceste ‘an alternative form of opera seria’ and ‘at once Gluck’s greatest achievement and his most intolerable’. Gluck’s grandest, noblest conception, it reflects in every bar not just a love of the ‘high’ operatic art-form but a determination to dare everything in renewing it.
In this opera, according to the already-mentioned 1769 preface written by Gluck (and Calzabigi), Gluck claims to have essayed the purification of abuses ‘introduced [into the Italian opera] either by the mistaken vanity of singers or by the too great complaisance of composers’. He then lists some of those abuses: aria forms with repetitions that arrest the flow of drama; ornamented passages of vocalises placed to display singing technique rather than advance dramatic situation; contrasts between recitative and aria that break rather than increase ‘the heat of the action’; overtures that fail to forewarn the spectators of the ‘nature of the action to be represented’.
Certainly, the unrelievedly dark D minor overture of Alceste, its vast choral edifices (such as the mourning scene of Act 3, probably the grandest in all opera) and its heroine’s vocal line bare of ornateness, show Gluck and Calzabigi ceaselessly confronting and contradicting convention. Yet for all that, the stately pace of the opera, inclusion of secco recitative (a basic of opera seria) and use of confidants for both king and queen support the belief that the underlying intention was to make opera seria newly theatrical, not sweep it away. Re-invigoration, not Reform.
Indeed, I’d say the idea that Gluck and his collaborators could ever have intended the latter is one of the many misunderstandings that arose posthumously, along with the various moralistic and nationalistic ‘agendas’ about Reform that became prevalent in the 19th century and after. Even so, the history books are not all wrong: something momentous did indeed happen in Vienna, in the 1760s, in Don Juan, Orfeo, Alceste. In his years of writing dance music and supplying light songs to satisfy the Parisian-Viennese opèra-comique fashion, Gluck had learned to compress and reduce to essentials his melodic and related musical techniques. The first mature fruit of this compression was the 1761 ballet-pantomime – The Stone Guest, or Don Juan is its full title – which has proved to be quite as significant in the history of the dance as Orfeo in that of opera. No earlier ballet score tells a continuous story exploring the range of plastic, plain-speaking expressiveness found in Don Juan; no earlier ballet-score builds up so ‘continuous’ a sense of drama. (Sémiramis, the little-known Voltaire-inspired ballet of 1765, a storehouse of invention that Gluck, an inveterate self-borrower, raided 23 years later in the writing of Iphigénie en Tauride, is even more plastic and more ‘continuous’.)
Almost exactly a year later came Orfeo ed Euridice. Nothing like the nakedness of its succession of scenes had been experienced in opera for a very long time – a C minor funerary chorus pierced by the hero crying his beloved’s name from offstage; arias of mourning and loss for the hero of extraordinary melodic plainness; scenes set in hell and then heaven that are atmospherically defined with the sparsest and starkest of means. Responding to the inspiration of contemporary French opera, with its chorus-rich and dance-punctuated forms and concern for a whole theatrical vehicle made of many parts, Gluck and his collaborators stripped away excess: Orfeo, Alceste, and Paride ed Elena – 1770, third and last of the Gluck-Calzabigi operas – may not be the first expressions of the new, Enlightened, purified Classicism in opera, but they are the fullest and clearest examples of it.
But the ravishing Paride ed Elena, a different kind of piece from its predecessors, concerned with the erotic rather than the tragic, failed in Vienna. This turned his attentions to Paris, where his former pupil Marie-Antoinette was now queen; and there he succeeded in achieving a thorough-going, undeniable Reform – that of the tragédie-lyrique, the ‘high’ but moribund French operatic form.
The problem that faced him in Paris, unlike in Vienna, was one of ossified repertory and, as a result, performing standards in deep decline. His task was to convert the Paris Opéra from (in Julian Rushton’s words) ‘a museum into a place of musical novelty and dramatic vitality’. In composing for the Opéra and getting performed there (by means of unprecedentedly long rehearsal and occasional violent confrontation with his performers) Iphigénie en Aulide (1774), the radical Paris revision of Alceste (1776) and Iphigénie en Tauride (1779), his single most tautly focused music-drama, Gluck accomplished this renewal.
But side by side with these Classical tragedies, he produced a series of works – the Paris expansion of Orfeo (1774), Armide (1777), and Echo et Narcisse (1779) – in which the decorative, dance-dominated nature of the tragédie-lyrique is both celebrated and fired with long-lined dramatic purpose. These works were less universally admired (the failure of Echo, Gluck’s final opera, brought the end of his opera-composing career); not long ago it was customary to consider them swervings, aberrations even, from the main path. Now, however, in the wake of revived interest in Gluck’s predecessors in Paris – Lully and Rameau above all (both of whom he admitted to studying hard before tackling the first Iphigénie) – it’s possible to see just how much he owed to French tradition, and just how greatly he transformed it.
Mention of Rameau, though, orchestrator of brilliance entirely out of Gluck’s reach, brings up another of the Gluck paradoxes. ‘He knows no more of counterpoint than my cook Walz’, Handel is often quoted as having said of Gluck after performances of the London opera La caduta de’ giganti (1746). Comments about sketchy technique, and about the errors (parallel fifths and octaves, principally) to which generations of academicians have pointed accusingly, are wholesale in the Gluck literature. Was the famous plainness of style that became his signature – the extraordinary ability to force dramatic and, indeed, psychological revelations out of repeated notes and figures, the sudden applications of single splashes of woodwind colour, the vocal lines at times almost like folk song in their simplicity – the result of limited talent?
Again, it’s my contention that if those who commented thus had got to know Gluck fully, including his early works, such judgments would have become more guarded. His gift for trademarking a particular style for a particular subject is evident early, as becomes clear when the whole career is surveyed; and in the so-called Reform operas, Italian and French alike, the subjects demanded and rewarded ‘beautiful simplicity’ of musical sound and substance. In the right performance conditions these operas are heard and seen to represent some of the most acute balancing acts between music and drama in the complicated history of opera.
But ‘beautiful simplicity’ – the exigent thinness of means with which those balances are held – offers executants no leeway, no easy lapse into comfortable routine, no chance either to parade technical skills or conceal technical shortcomings. ‘To play Gluck heroines’, Berlioz once wrote, ‘it is not enough to have genuine talent – nothing less than beauty and genius will do.’
In this respect, one ray of light brightens the gloom. In the last two decades, having tackled Monteverdi, Bach, Handel and Rameau, period-conscious performers have arrived at Gluck. Much more of his repertory needs to be explored in this way, but already there have been sometimes revelatory results. Gluck the Wagnerian Precursor has had to be abandoned; this process has not been without loss, since the calm, slow grandeur that such great Gluckians of the past as Fürtwängler, Frida Leider, and the mezzos Alice Raveau and Margarete Klose could attain in his music – records show them doing so – is a characteristic not to be recaptured under the Early Music dispensation.
In general, however, gain surely outweighs loss. In, for instance, Naxos’s Vienna Alceste recording, conducted by Arnold Östman, or the new Telarc Iphigénie en Tauride from Boston Baroque, devices of colour, vocal characterization and figuration repetition become newly and immensely potent. The operas, placed ‘historically’, have seldom been unfolded as such concentrated, direct-striking wholes. Shaw’s word ‘perfection’ suddenly makes sense; Calzabigi’s summing-up of Gluck operas – ‘mighty passions at boiling point’ – has seldom seemed more accurate.
Well known Director, Lindy Hume, will be directing our next production for Pinchgut Opera of Gluck’s Iphigenie and Tauride. Anna McMichael caught up with Lindy recently and found out a little of what audience can expect in December…
"Iphigenie has an incredibly dramatic story, what do you hope audiences will take away with them?"
A piece like this is like an electrical jolt - it reminds us of the human family, the connection that binds the ancient communities who first heard this story with our own. The story is so visceral, so shocking and so emotionally raw that you almost can't imagine people coping with such catastrophic tragedy...until something like MH17 happens, or any of the wars currently tearing countries apart, or Guantanamo Bay or Manus Island. It should be impossible to watch Iphigenie without feeling empathy for these human extremes.
"Are you hoping to make modern day comparisons in your setting of this work?"
Not specifically - it's not set in a recognisable war zone but the story is clear that we're at war and the violence between the Greeks and the Scythians is fierce and bloody. Prisoners are executed. Escape is perilous. The mental, emotional and spiritual toll of the bloodshed means everyone is hanging on by their fingernails to the final shreds of sanity. These are things I hope the audience will recognise as timeless. They're certainly right there in the opera's themes.
"There is no love interest which is unusual in Opera, does Iphigenie cover a range of other emotional territories as a result?"
I think the central scene, where Iphigenie interviews Orestes, is genius - the notion that a long-long brother and sister are sharing their losses with each other, each completely oblivious of the identity of the other. It's one of the great landmarks in the whole of Greek tragedy, holding the audience in suspense through every twist and turn of the conversation, each near-miss of recognition making the final resolution at the end of the opera an even greater release. I do think there's a great love story in this opera - it's the love between Pylades and Orestes which is so powerful that each would happily die for the other.
"How does the era it was written affect your thinking as far as direction goes?"
I'm a huge Handel fan, but I love the later baroque composers too and Gluck is my favorite of these. His treatment of the myths and characters in operas like Alceste and Iphigenie is extremely sophisticated and psychologically more "modern" than his predecessors whose approach was more formulaic. What excites me is the juxtaposition of the epic themes and the human tragedy the natural world as represented by the storm and the final deus ex machina when Diana appears. You get all the grandeur of that baroque theatrical architecture but also to apply contemporary psychology to phenomena like Orestes avenging furies and the brother/sister relationship, and the great love between Orestes and Pylades.
"How will you approach the challenge of staging in the CRH? Can you give us a little bit of an idea of what to expect? - without giving away too much!"
I don't want to give too much away but I very much hope that the dramatic and the musical performances will be integrated more completely than I've ever seen them in Angel Place. It is a challenging space for such a monumental work - but we have an amazing design team in Tony Assness, Alistair Trung and Matt Marshall and we're up for it!
We’re very excited to have fashion designer Alistair Trung as part of the creative team for Gluck’s Iphigénie. Born in Saigon 30 years ago, the eldest son of four children of an established southern Vietnamese businessman, Alistair says he was a shy child, spending hours up a mango tree in his back garden, dressing dolls made from chopsticks in banana leaves. He arrived in Australia in 1980, after five failed attempts to escape Vietnam; on one occasion their boat was fired on and the Trung family had to swim to shore. They began a new life here: first in Tasmania’s Sandy Bay, and then in Marrickville in Sydney.
Alistair didn’t fulfil his parents’ expectations of studying medicine or law but obtained a degree in design with honours from the University of Technology, Sydney. ‘They finally realised it wasn’t just a phase I was going through,’ he says.
After completing a fashion and textiles degree, and without any industry experience, Alistair founded Alistair Trung in 2000 and has gone on to run five thriving fashion boutiques around Australia selling his fiercely independent label.
Here’s Alistair’s take on the costume design for Iphigénie:
Iphigénie is an opera that deals with epic issues of humanity's sacrifice, self-destruction and the cycle of violence that haunts the whole of human history. I needed to find a design language that helps the characters to become powerful metaphors for these big ideas.
Aesthetically, I feel the need to go to a very abstract level with the costumes, so as to reflect the universal and timeless themes of the opera. The costumes are a hybrid of cultures and moods – tribal and urban, savage and noble, brutal and lyrical, ritualistic and chaotic – all very stylised to capture the tense, ominous air, and the dreadful extremes experienced by the characters. It’s this psychic landscape that constantly feeds my imagination.
[Set designer] Tony Assness’ powerful set design provides an expansive, abstract canvas that really inspires the character building. It symbolises a dystopia – once grand and pure, but now destroyed – which is inhabited by the equally flawed and ruined characters.
Most powerfully, it is the genius of Gluck’s music that expands my mind. There are such brilliant juxtapositions of extreme emotions in the music; from stormy violence to pathos, longing tenderness to sadness, But the music is always noble and elegant, penetrating deeply into the heart!
Iphigénie en Tauride
by Christoph Willibald Gluck
Libretto by Nicolas-Francois Guillard
First performed 1779
Wed 3 Dec
Fri 5 Dec
Sun 7 Dec
Tue 9 Dec
City Recital Hall Angel Place
Gluck's Iphigénie and Tauride, The shortish and short of it...
Gluck’s Iphigénie and Tauride was written in 1779, was premiered by the Paris Opera and was Gluck’s penultimate opera that was performed more than four hundred times over the next fifty years . He wrote a revised version in 1781 in German, Iphigenia in Tauris which was staged as a tragic singspiel at the National Theatre in Vienna but proved less popular than the original French versions.
Shortest version of synopsis:
The supposedly dead Iphigénie reunites with her long lost brother and his best friend which ends the cycle of horrific family violence in a happy ending. (This is the one sentence version!)
In a bit more detail…
Diana, goddess of the hunt, has secretely saved Iphigenie from being sacrificed by her own father, Agamemnon, to aid in the abating of the winds so that he could sail smoothly to fight in the Trojan wars. Diana took Iphigénie off, unknown to all, as one of her high priestesses overseeing human sacrifice on the island of Tauris in the Black Sea. Iphigénie has been there unhappily ever since (but, thankfully alive). In the meantime, Iphigénie’s mother, Clytemnestra has murdered her husband, Agamemnon in revenge for the supposed sacrifice of his own daughter. Iphigénie’s brother, Orestes has then killed their mother in revenge for the death of their father.
The Furies, gods who avenge familial murder, have been driving Orestes mad ever since and he travels to the island of Tauris together with his best friend, Pylades, to steal treasure from Diana to placate the Furies. Pylades is nearly sacrificed himself on the island but happily sister and brother are united.
Gluck tried to pare back the embellished vocal action of Baroque opera, the long arias with lots of runs and trills and repeated words, and present a more solid form of sung drama. Dialogue and recitative have the same weight — and the same orchestral accompaniment — as the arias: effective drama and beautiful music without vocal acrobatics.
An unusual aspect for Paris Opera at the time was only having one dance number, a Turkish dance at the end of Act One.