Opera Scotland

Iphigénie en Tauride Iphigenia in Tauris

Music
Christoph Willibald Gluck (born Erasbach, 2 July 1714; died Vienna, 15 November 1787)

Text
Nicolas François Guillard.

Source
Classical Greek drama (414-12 BC) by Euripides and tragedy (1757) by Claude Guimond de la Touche.

Premieres
First performance: Paris (Académie de Musique), 18 May 1779.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre), 7 April 1796.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Lyric Theatre), 20 January 1937.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Background
In the mythology relating to the house of Atreus, Agamemnon, before going to fight in the Trojan War, sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia in Aulis to ensure a good outcome. This so infuriated his wife, Clytemnestra, that she murdered him on his return, setting off a chain of events which has provided plentiful subject-matter for generations of composers. In this variant of the story, Orestes, having killed his mother, in revenge for the murder of his father, has fled to Tauris te find a statue of Artemis which has been defiled by the locals carrying out human sacrifices. Here he discovers that his sister had not been sacrificed after all, but was rescued by Diana (the Greek goddess Artemis) and has been a priestess in her temple for several years. Gluck’s treatment was created for Paris and not subjected to the wholesale revisions suffered by some of his earlier works. Maybe this is what gives it a satisfying sense of unity and dramatic momentum in spite of the fact that he recycled melodic material from some of his earlier Italian operas. It also contains a series of very effective solos for the lead characters as well as choruses and dances for the Scythians.

Main Characters
Iphigénie, Priestess of Diana (soprano)
Thoas, King of Tauris (baritone)
Oreste, brother of Iphigénie (baritone)
Pylade, friend of Oreste (tenor)
Diana (mezzo-soprano)

Plot Summary
Iphigenia and her priestesses pray for safety from the raging storm, but she has also dreamt of misfortunes affecting her family back at Mycenae. Thoas has been warned of approaching danger, and comes to demand a human sacrifice to ward it off. People bring in two Greeks who have been found after coming ashore in the storm. One of them is constantly raving about the Furies who pursue him to avenge some crime he has committed. Pylades has supported his friend Orestes throughout these travels (and travails), but now they are separated. Iphigenia interrogates Orestes. He keeps his identity a secret, but does reveal that he comes from Mycenae, where the royal family have slaughtered one another, and only Electra survives. Iphigenia decides to send a letter to her sister, but Orestes refuses the task of carrying it, unwilling to leave Pylades. His friend eventually agrees to go instead, hoping to help Orestes. But Thoas demands the sacrifice go ahead, with Orestes as a willing victim. It is only as Iphigenia is poised to kill him that he calls out to “Iphigenia, my sister” and mutual recognition occurs. Pylades arrives with a group of sailors and in the ensuing struggle Thoas is killed. Diana restores order and grants a pardon to Orestes.

The Cast

First Priestess
 
Greek woman
 
Iphigénie
 Priestess of Diana
Oreste
 son of Agamemnon
Pylade
 friend to Oreste
Scythian
 
Second Priestess
 
Temple servant
 
Thoas
 King of Tauris
Voice of Diana
 

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