“Lightning never strikes twice,” so the saying goes. Or does it? Meteorologically speaking, definitely. Metaphorically speaking even more so, as Boston Baroque’s revisiting Iphigénie en Tauride proves. Nearly 25 years ago Martin Pearlman and his period instrument group gave a landmark performance of Gluck’s opera which helped cement Christine Goerke’s reputation as a singer to reckon with. Now, in its fiftieth season, they may have given a similar boost  to soprano/opera entrepreneur, Soula Parassidis. You can check her Instagram for the sleepless itinerary which brought her from Greece to Boston at very short notice to replace an injured Wendy Bryn Harmer. Fortunately, she had just made her role debut as Iphigénie in Athens, so the music and drama were still fresh. 

Soula Parassidis (Iphigénie)
© Sam Brewer

However, Mo Zhou’s staging, though economical, is precise and demands concentration. At the third and final performance, Parassidis was thoroughly integrated into the production and betrayed no hint of having arrived the morning of the dress rehearsal. This alone would mark a major achievement if it were not also married to a fierce dramatic and vocal performance, perfectly in tune with Pearlman and the orchestra’s contribution and astutely calibrated to an unusual venue.  Though Parassidis identifies as a soprano, her voice has the rich mahogany quality and robust lower range of a mezzo. The color and heft remains constant as the voice rises as does its flexibility and clarity, both crucial to painting the text with the appropriate emotion. During the final tableau, the regally coiffed Parassidis raised her arms high, beaming in triumph, a gesture completely in character both for Iphigénie and the singer herself.

The close fraternal relationship between Jesse Blumberg’s Oreste and William Burden’s Pylade was reflected in voices of similar warmth, weight and color. Their scene together opening Act 2 ran a riveting gamut of emotions. It was amongst the afternoon’s vocal and dramatic highlights along with Pylade’s “Divinité des grandes âmes” closing Act 3. Thoas’ appearance is brief, but David McFerrin, helped by some ghoulish make-up and sepulchral tones, effectively painted the portrait of a bloodthirsty psychopath. Diana’s appearance is even briefer, but a radiant and authoritative Angela Yam made the most of it. Smaller roles were taken by members of the chorus who briefly stepped out of the group.

Costumes were simply Grecian. Those for Iphigénie and Oreste reflected kinship in their use of the same fabric and the same crimson spatter pattern at the shoulders and hems, suggestive of the siblings’ blood-soaked history; a bright red stripe on the palms of their right hands further emphasized this aspect. Black and white projections of natural formations – rocks, trees, clouds, the ocean – reflected the moods and emotions of the characters and situations, abetted by the occasional use of primary colors in the stage lighting.The projection for Act 4 was the sole representation of anything structural. Silhouette profiles evoked people and there were brief flashes of objects like the knife accompanying Iphigénie’s premonition about her father’s death. The moon, tutelary planet of the opera’s deus ex machina, Diana, glowed above and changed color along with the mood lighting.

Soula Parassidis (Iphigénie) and Jesse Blumberg (Oreste)
© Sam Brewer

As for that unusual venue, Boston Baroque has embraced live and on-demand streaming with The Calderwood Studio at station GBH. The studio has all the technology and staff in place to facilitate streaming while accommodating an audience of up to 300. For operas, the company has adopted a stock set-up, with the orchestra on a raised platform and the action unfolding on raised strips in front and behind, the chorus split on either side, women stage left, men stage right. Projections replace sets. This arrangement limits seating capacity to roughly 260, providing an intimate setting and amplifying dramatic intensity. Acoustically, however, it is less congenial to voices and the body miking necessary to compensate for that and for streaming purposes presents problems of its own. Distortion was intermittent and a metallic echo at the end of certain phrases afflicted the male singers in particular. 

It is no secret that Boston needs an opera house.The technical and theatrical resources of its arts organizations and universities afford the city the unique opportunity to completely rethink the performance space for opera and create one which seamlessly weds technology to architecture, guaranteeing the best possible experience for both live and virtual audiences. Otherwise, a venue can compromise even a performance as exceptional as this.