Experience Magazine, February 2022
On a warm Friday evening in mid-November, the line of ticketholders waiting to get into the Cutler Majestic Theatre in downtown Boston snaked around the block past a sports bar, a Panera, the W Hotel, and two parking garages. They were there for the world premiere of Iphigenia, an opera by jazz titan Wayne Shorter, with a libretto from its star, Esperanza Spalding. But this wasn’t your stereotypical opera crowd.
“This line is f***ing LONG!” a college-aged kid with a gold earring and a red leather bomber jacket shouted as he bounded up to meet his friends. Farther down, a twenty-something couple in jeans and baggy sweaters worried aloud that the show’s late start meant their marijuana buzz might wear off before the house lights dimmed. “It’s ok; we can enjoy art without being high,” the woman mused, in a seeming effort to convince herself.
Onstage, the casual vibe persisted. Both musically and in its staging, …(Iphigenia) — the styling of the title was changed for subsequent performances — casts a critical eye on the Wagnerian-style retellings of ancient myths, foundational to many of the best-known opera works. In this version of the story — based on the Greek myth in which the title character is sacrificed to the gods by her father, Agamemnon, to improve his chances in a military campaign — the Greek soldiers are brutes swilling from red Solo cups. Helen of Troy appears, briefly, in the form of a blow-up doll. Six different actresses play versions of Iphigenia — capped off by Spalding, clad in an iridescent jumpsuit. An opera-standard pit orchestra gives way to a jazz trio at key dramatic moments; Spalding’s singing vacillates between the two styles. Whether or not the whole thing fully hangs together is an open question. “I can’t say we figured out how to do it,” Spalding said in a panel discussion following the premiere, about deciding how the story onstage would ultimately end. But this show was trying something.