From the rise of the curtain, it’s clear: This production of Iphigenia is packed with little surprises and big emotions. The gorgeous opera (featuring multiple achingly beautiful arias) is especially well-suited for a young audience for several reasons, not the least of which is its relatively short run-time (two acts, each less than an hour long, with a half-hour intermission).
Visually, Iphigenia has much to offer. The set is cleverly divided into two “rooms,” a richly colored temple and a starkly lit prison. In several temple scenes, dancers whirl and “furies” appear suddenly within temple walls as scrims are lit. The action moves apace; just when a young viewer is feeling fidgety, someone breaks a vase, tries to stab another character, or takes to the air.
But as with ‘most any opera, there are sensitive themes that require discussion with young viewers. Iphigenia is a story about a deep fraternal love between a brother and a sister, and between a man and his dedicated friend. (No major sex or romance, unlike most operas.) But there are clearly articulated themes of racism, vengeance and human sacrifice here. Kids weaned on Disney will take the matricide in stride (the plot hinges on many layers of interfamilial betrayal), but there is lots to talk about as temple supplicants demand the death of “unclean” outsiders.
If you take your child (I suggest about ages 12 and older; a little younger for seasoned opera-goers) be sure to read the plot synopsis before the curtain rises. The action starts immediately, surprisingly – and you just won’t “get” the first scene if you don’t read up first. Even better, visit www.seattleopera.org and read the synopsis online in advance.
The voices in this production are deeply — yes — staggeringly gorgeous, particularly William Burden as the doomed shipwrecked Pylades. His rich tenor held me rapt; Nuccia Focile was radiant in the lead role as an exiled priestess. Musically, Iphigenia is a soaring triumph, destined next for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The curtain went down to a thunderous applause.