The one thing you should see this week: a star mezzo paired with a brilliant director

The one thing you should see this week: a star mezzo paired with a brilliant director

(Image: Michael Cooper) 

This week’s pick: Iphigenia in Tauris at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

We’ve already extolled the virtues of Susan Graham, the stately, sonorous American mezzo-soprano currently reprising her signature role as Iphigenia, the ancient Greek priestess exiled on the isle of Tauris who finds herself forced to sacrifice her brother Orestes. The brilliant modernist Canadian director Robert Carsen may not appear onstage, but he is the impetus behind this production, and he’s left his mark all over it.

Gluck’s elegant opera is sombre and unrelentingly grim—Iphigenia is constantly walking the line between restraint and nervous breakdown, and Carsen’s direction is appropriately claustrophobic. Instead of a having a chorus onstage, he has Iphigenia surrounded by dancers, a throng of doppelgangers in identical dress who teem around her and writhe like serpents.

The sets, by Tobias Hoheisel, give the impression of a padded cell. When the opera begins, the performers are surrounded by three slate-coloured walls, with monstrous shadows lurking in their wake and a stark stone altar sitting menacingly in the centre. A tempest brews as Iphigenia slides into a crazed presentiment, and as the music swells and Graham’s burnished voice soars, the walls begin to bleed. It’s gripping melodrama and sweeping spectacle: everything an opera should be.

Details: To October 15. $45–$318. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., 416-363-8231, coc.ca.