“Ipegenia,” an opera recently presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, was an intense experience requiring close attention. The 90-minute production took on sacrifice, violence against women, male domination and worshipping false gods.
Music was composed by Kennedy Center honoree and 11-time Grammy winner Wayne Shorter. The libretto, also referred to as the lyrics, were written by four-time Grammy-winning jazz bassist and singer-songwriter esperanza spalding (who stylizes her stage name in lower-case letters).
Based on Greek mythology, this opera was composed with a nod to contemporary sensibilities. The premise of this opera was through the lens of Greek mythology. Princess Iphigenia was the beautiful daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Iphigenia was sent to her death to make amends for the killing of a deer belonging to Artemis. This tale is connected to the Trojan War.
The cast was dressed in Greek mythology garb takes us through this new look at a tragedy. I’m watching and listening as I try to recall all the Greek mythology I read in junior high school. Thank goodness there were captions above the stage.
Six performers portray the character Iphigenia. The sixth Iphigenia was esperanza spalding who led a back and forth process of doing the right thing. A female character called The Usher guides this opera. She enters the opera ticked off as she sees the bodies of dead women. The Usher also served as a voice of reason that other characters cannot hear, but the audience is connected to the rationale behind this tragedy. The audience loved it.
We see a group of men kill off five Iphigenias. Some of the modern-day scenes were reminiscent of college life. When the male characters marched and hooted in formation, it was like watching a fraternity in a step show. Another scene had the men are celebrating and drinking from red Solo cups. What an inside joke. Who knew that red Solo cups were a part of Greek mythology.
The music by Shorter illustrated the drama against a simple, sometimes dark scenic design. The singing of the libretto gave us bawdiness from male characters to beautiful soprano-sung verses as female characters struggled with an inevitable fate. A trio consisting of Grammy-winning pianist-composer Danilo Pérez, five-time Grammy winner John Patitucci on bass and Wayne Shorter Quartet drummer Brian Blade led the music for “Iphigenia.” The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, under the direction of Evan Rogister, principal conductor, backed the trio.
Architect Frank Gehry, an international designer, created the scenery for “Iphigenia.” Gehry signed on because of his immense respect for Shorter, though this was not his usual type of project.
The executive creative producer for “Iphigenia” was Jeff Tang. He and spalding founded the company “Real Magic” to move this project forward. Lileana Blain-Cruz was the director. She has an illustrious career in different stage genres, including operas.
The standing ovation at the end of “Iphegenia” was well-deserved as the cast and crew took their bows. The audience received a fabulous surprise as Shorter was rolled out to join his team. Shorter has had health challenges over the past few years, so his presence was a thrill for the cast and the Kennedy Center audience.
As Shorter told me in a recent interview, you can’t put music in separate buckets. Bravo to Shorter and spalding. Through “Iphegenia,” these two have shown that they are masters of all music.
View the trailer for “Iphigenia” https://youtu.be/6FQsnpkIxKE
The Washington Informer
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