Classical Picks

Iphigenia in Tauris

Since a lot of 18th-century opera (at least until Mozart started putting real people on the stage) is so highly stylized, and since the staging of an opera based on Greek myth could hardly be "naturalistic" anyway, directors have a lot of leeway. Seattle Opera's fall presentation, a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, is Gluck's 1779 tale of a priestess ordered to sacrifice two enemy captives to the gods without realizing they're—well, wait and find out. San Francisco's production in June, a friend reports, was all in black, with a black floor and walls with words and outlined images drawn on them in chalk. Then there was the production my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, gave back in 1990, which because of the loinclothed male cast we dubbed Iphigenia at Chippendale's. From the sketches Seattle Opera provided, it seems Martin Pakledinaz's costumes will show a little less skin, while Thomas Lynch's set looks like it's going for imposing Bronze Age gloom. Stephen Wadsworth, whose credits for Seattle Opera include the lavishly sylvan Ring and an English-country-house Xerxes, will direct. New York will see this production starting Nov. 27—with Susan Graham and Placido Domingo (sigh). McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 389-7676, www.seattleopera.org. Sat., Oct. 13–Sat., Oct. 27.

Melia Watras

Though his health was bad, Dmitri Shostakovich couldn't have known his Viola Sonata, written in the summer of 1975, would be his last work. Still, its spareness and bleakness, and the very fact that he chose the darker, throatier tones of the neglected viola, suggest he was having final thoughts. The piano part seems reticent, offering in several passages mere murmurs and thumps in place of a full accompaniment; for long chunks of the final movement, it falls silent. This finale is based on Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but in Shostakovich's version, Beethoven's steady triplets become halting, sliding off the rails harmonically, while the viola makes the opening dotted rhythm of Beethoven's melody—dum-de-dummm...—sound more than ever like a funeral march. University of Washington viola professor Watras plays the sonata, with pianist Kimberly Russ, at her upcoming recital, in an eclectic program alongside a Bach suite and bonbons by Kreisler and Wieniawski. Meany Hall, UW campus, 543-4880, www.music.washington.edu. 7:30 p.m. Tues., Oct. 30.

Trouble in Tahiti/Rita

The first (and I think only) opera about suburban soullessness, Leonard Bernstein's 1952 one-act Trouble in Tahiti follows a middle-class couple through a despairingly typical day. Sam is a corporate climber who gets a blustering locker-room aria about winning, winning, winning, while the highlight of his bored wife Dinah's day is sitting through a terrible South Seas romance film (hence the title), which she recounts in detail in her big scene. They bicker, they lie, they avoid each other. At the downbeat climax, they no longer even try to communicate—which Bernstein signals simply but devastatingly by letting his music drop out as the pair finish their dialogue spoken. No stabbings, no consumption; the tragedy in this opera is that they're stuck with each other. Meanwhile, a backup vocal trio adds its ironic commentary, scat-singing about the sun kissing the little white house, skiddly-doo-bop, in Scarsdale...in Shaker Heights....It's a bit of a departure for Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program, which usually sets its energetic, fresh-faced casts on comedies—like Donizetti's 1841 Rita, another, considerably more farcical, look at domestic strife (its subtitle is The Battered Husband). They'll take the double bill on tour around Western Washington, with a local run in November. Capitol Hill Arts Center, 1621 12th Ave., 389-7676, www.seattleopera.org. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 16–Sat., Nov. 17.

Trio Medieval

The wondrously, supernaturally clear, pure, buoyant voices of these three Norwegian sopranos are ideal not only for early music but for new works drawing on that tradition: the long-spun lines, floating counterpoint, devotional mood, and modal scales that living composers like Gavin Bryars and Ivan Moody have found deeply inspiring. (Commissioning new works for the distinctive timbres of old instruments is not too rare—locally, Seattle Baroque and flutist Kim Pineda have asked composers to write for them—but it'd be fascinating to hear even more of that sort of old/new interplay.) The Early Music Guild is bringing the trio to Town Hall in November, in conjunction with their new disc, Folk Songs (ECM), which, like their first three, will include repertory from these chronological extremes—with the addition of traditional Norwegian songs, the most beautiful folk music in Europe. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., 325-7066, www.earlymusicguild.org. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 30.

 
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