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Iphigenia in Tauris
(Original French title: Iphigenie en Tauride)
An Opera by C W Gluck

Opera in four acts by Gluck, words by François Guillard.

Produced at the Académie de Musique, Paris, May 18, 1779; Metropolitan Opera House, New York, November 25, 1916, with Kurt, Weil, Sembach, Braun, and Rappold.


IPHIGENIE, Priestess of Diana………………………Soprano
ORESTES, her Brother……………………………….…Baritone
PYLADES, his Friend………………………………..…Tenor
THOAS, King of Scythia…………………………….…..Bass
Scythians, Priestesses of Diana.

Time: Antiquity, after the Trojan War.
Place: Tauris.

Iphigènie is the daughter of Agamemnon, King of Mycene. Agamemnon was slain by his wife, Clytemnestra, who, in turn, was killed by her son, Orestes. Iphigènie is ignorant of these happenings. She has been a priestess of Diana and has not seen Orestes for many years.

Act I. Before the atrium of the temple of Diana. To priestesses and Greek maidens, Iphigènie tells of her dream that misfortune has come to her family in the distant country of her birth. Thoas, entering, calls for a human sacrifice to ward off danger that has been foretold to him. Some of his people, hastily coming upon the scene, bring with them as captives Orestes and Pylades, Greek youths who have landed upon the coast. They report that Orestes constantly speaks of having committed a crime and of being pursued by Furies.

Act II. Temple of Diana. Orestes bewails his fate. Pylades sings of his undying friendship for him. Pylades is separated from Orestes, who temporarily loses his mind. Iphigènie questions him. Orestes, under her influence, becomes calmer, but refrains from disclosing his identity. He tells her, however, that he is from Mycene, that Agamemnon (their father) has been slain by his wife, that Clytemnestra’s son, Orestes, has slain her in revenge, and is himself dead. Of the once great family only a daughter, Electra, remains.

Act III. Iphigènie is struck with the resemblance of the stranger to her brother and, in order to save him from the sacrifice demanded by Thoas, charges him to deliver a letter to Electra. He declines to leave Pylades; nor until Orestes affirms that he will commit suicide, rather than accept freedom at the price of his friend’s life, does Pylades agree to take the letter, and then only because he hopes to bring succour to Orestes,

Act IV. All is ready for the sacrifice. Iphigènie has the knife poised for the fatal thrust, when, through an exclamation uttered by Orestes, she recognizes him as her brother. The priestesses offer him obeisance as King. Thoas, however, enters and demands the sacrifice. Iphigènie declares that she will die with her brother. At that moment Pylades at the head of a rescue party enters the temple. A combat ensues in which Thoas is killed. Diana herself appears, pardons Orestes and returns to the Greeks her likeness which the Scythians had stolen and over which they had built the temple.

Gluck was sixty-five, when he brought out "Iphigènie en Tauride." A contemporary remarked that there were many fine passages in the opera. "There is only one," said the Abbé Arnaud. "Which?" --"The entire work."

The mad scene for Orestes, in the second act, has been called Gluck’s greatest single achievement. Mention should also be made of the dream of Iphigènie, the dances of the Scythians, the air of Thoas, "De noirs presentiments mon âme intimidée" (My spirit is depressed by dark forebodings); the air of Pylades, "Unis dès la plus tender enfance" (United since our earliest infancy); Iphigènie’s "O malheureuse Iphigènie" (O unhappy Iphigenia); and "Je t’implore et je tremble" (I pray you and I tremble); and the hymn to Diana, "Chaste fille de Latone" (Chaste daughter of the crescent moon).

Here may be related an incident at the rehearsal of the work, which proves the dramatic significance Gluck sought to impact to his music. In the second act, while Orestes is singing, "Le calme rentre dans mon coeur," (Once more my heart is calm), the orchestral accompaniment continues to express the agitation of his thoughts. During the rehearsal the members of the orchestra, not understanding the passage, came to a stop. "Go on all the same," cried Gluck. "He lies. He has killed his mother!"

Gluck’s enemies prevailed upon his rival, Piccini, to write an "Iphigènie en Tauride" in opposition. It was produced in January, 1781, met with failure, and put a definite stop to Piccini’s rivalry with Gluck. At the performance the prima donna was intoxicated. This caused a spectator to shout:

" ‘Iphigènie en Tauride!’ allons donc, c’est ‘Iphigènie en Champagne!’ " (Iphigènie in Tauris! Do tell! Shouldn’t it be Iphigenia in Champagne?)

The laugh that followed sealed the doom of the work.

The Metropolitan production employes the version of the work made by Richard Strauss, which involves changes in the finales of the first and last acts. Ballet music from "Orfeo" and "Armide" also is introduced.

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