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Gluck, Christoph Willibald: Iphigènie en Aulide
Act 2: Aria, “O toi, l’object le plus aimable” (Agamemnon)
Aria Talk •
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
Alas, eloquent French is seldom heard in auditions, but it remains one of the greatest pleasures a singer can offer, especially in Gluck. We associate him most closely with mezzo repertoire, but Oreste in Iphigénie en Tauride (examined in a previous “Aria Talk”) and Agamemnon in Iphigénie en Aulide are incomparably vivid creations.
Having offended the goddess Diana, King Agamemnon of Mycenae is informed by the oracle that in order for his ships to sail safely from Aulis to Troy, his own daughter Iphigénie (Iphigenia) must be sacrificed. Using the excuse that he wants her to marry the hero Achille (Achilles), Agamemnon sends for her. Achille loves Iphigénie and lets Agamemnon know that if he intends to harm her, he will have Achille himself to contend with. Left alone, the deeply tormented Agamemnon thinks of his beloved daughter. He longs for her forgiveness and asks Diana to pierce his heart instead of Iphigénie’s: “Satisfy your implacable rage — you want blood, so take mine!”
You must dig into the text, yet without disturbing the classical beauty of line that is invariably the essence of Gluck. Agamemnon’s music here becomes as nobly expressive as Gluck can get (which is saying something). You should be able to “play” with phrases that hover around D and E above the staff, while also having in reserve a ringing high F# for the conclusion. Lower-voiced male opera singers aren’t generally expected to possess pinpoint control of soft, high attacks. They’re frequent in this aria, however, and they’re essential in communicating the father’s aching tenderness.
Recording: José van Dam in complete opera, Erato # 45003; Walter Berry (sung in German) in complete opera, Orfeo d’Or #C428962; Boris Christoff (sung in Italian), “The Early Recordings,” Aura Classics# LRC 1119
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