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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 3 November 1997

Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride
Rossini: L'italiana in Algeri
Mozart: The Magic Flute
New York City Opera

The $27 million dollar question this autumn at the New York City Opera is whether Paul Kellogg's policy of transferring Glimmerglass Opera productions to the City Opera will work. I am happy to report almost total success. Opening night of director Francesca Zambello's homoerotic take on Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride was a success despite the absence of hunky baritone Nathan Gunn, who was wasting his magnificent talents singing the drunk soldier in the Met's concurrent Manon. Gunn's successor as Oreste was Andrew Schroeder, not a bad singer but neither physically nor vocally capable of filling Gunn's shoes. A color photo in the morning's New York Times depicted tenor William Burden (Pylade) suggestively clinging to Schroeder's back. In the accompanying article Ms. Zambello explained that the new casting gave the City Opera production "a whole new resonance." Translated into English it means that William Burden's wimpy Pylade (at Glimmerglass most definitely the bottom to Gunn's top) was so butch compared to newcomer Andrew Schroeder that Burden had to be recast as the top. Christine Goerke's Iphigénie was as impressive as ever. She is surely destined to become one of the great dramatic sopranos of our time. I didn't like the colorful, bold lighting, which was more blatantly keyed to mood than at Glimmerglass, the Scythians wore silly little plastic masks instead of balaclavas and their movement was random and rude. Jane Glover did what she could with the recalcitrant orchestra but the result was a rough approximation of the subtleties we heard at Glimmerglass. Though falling short of the polished performance I saw twice at Glimmerglass, this City Opera version was still splendid theatre and one of the most rewarding opera productions I have ever seen. Similar critical reservations about the City Opera's "new" L'italiana in Algeri. Despite cast changes we still had a good Taddeo, Zulma, Elvira and Haly. The difficult tenor part of Lindoro posed big problems for Bradley Williams. Lauretta Bybee in the title role of Isabella was no substitute for Phyllis Pancella. Kevin Glavin's Mustafà was as amusing and stentorian as ever. The real disappointment was again in the pit. The humdrum City Opera orchestra conveyed little of Rossini's manic effervescence. Finally, I saw the old 1987 Magic Flute. The Erté-inspired costumes were gorgeous and the singing was quite fine. The Queen of the Night's aria was solid, Victor Benedetti's Papageno was superb in English but might have been fabulous in German, Pamina was unlyrical and uneasy in her runs. Jonathan Green's Monostatos was overacted and often inaudible. This children's Flute with flimsy pop-up book, trompe-l'oeil sets by Thierry Bosquet should be labelled "Keep out of Reach of Adults." It left me feeling infantilized and bored. Need I add that the orchestra was merely adequate? Paul Kellogg is on the right track with new productions. Now what he really needs is a new orchestra. ­ Philip Anson

(c) La Scena Musicale