Gluck's Successful Sequel: 'Iphigenie en Tauride'

From Theater La Monnaie, In Brussels


Nadja Michael stars in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride." i i

Nadja Michael stars in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride" from Theatre La Monnaie, in Brussels. Bernd Uhlig hide caption

itoggle caption Bernd Uhlig
Nadja Michael stars in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride."

Nadja Michael stars in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride" from Theatre La Monnaie, in Brussels.

Bernd Uhlig

The Single

Near the end of Act Two, Iphigenia (soprano Nadja Michael) learns that her brother Orestes is -- supposedly -- dead, and responds with an emotional lament that's also one of Gluck's finest arias.

The B Side

As the final act begins, after Iphigenia (soprano Nadja Michael) has been ordered to sacrifice Orestes, she sings a furious prayer, hoping to be released from her predicament.

Sequels have been popping up in all kinds of dramatic entertainment for a long time now, going all the way back to the days of classic, Greek drama, and continuing in today's movie houses, and they can make for great ticket sales.

The built-in following sequels are assumed to have, and the box office potential that goes with it, are big reasons for the many sequels we find at the cinema — together with the fact that a sequel doesn't require a brand new idea to get started. And that lack of fresh ideas may be why many, if not most, dramatic sequels simply fail to live up to their predecessors.

Then again, there are some noteworthy success stories. George Lukas's The Empire Strikes Back was surely a worthy follow up to Star Wars, and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II is considered by many to have surpassed the original.

Surprisingly though, with a history of sequels stretching from ancient Athens to modern Hollywood, there are almost no sequels to be found at the opera. (OK, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro does follow up on the story of Rossini's The Barber of Seville — but Figaro was written first, so that doesn't count.)

Still, opera does give us at least one, truly great sequel. In the early 1770s, Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote an opera called Iphigenie en Aulide. It's based on the classic, Greek story of Iphigenia, whose father was ordered to offer her up as a human sacrifice, to appease the gods. And in the original story, Agamemnon does sacrifice Iphigenia and that, as they say, was all she wrote.

But when Gluck wrote his version of the tale, operas with tragic endings were frowned upon. So, at the end of the opera, the gods have second thoughts, and Iphigenia is spared. And that turned out well for Gluck. The opera was a sensation, and its ending allowed his heroine to live on, in a sequel. Today, it might be called, The Continuing, Excellent Adventures of Iphigenia. In 1778, Gluck called it Iphigenie en Tauride.

On World of Opera, Lisa Simeone brings us a production of Gluck's second opera about Iphigenia, from La Monnaie in Brussels — that theater's own sequel to its production of the composer's first Iphigenia opera. This time, soprano Nadja Michael stars in the title role, with baritone Stephane Degout as Iphigenia's brother, Orestes, in a performance led by Christophe Rousset.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

The Story of 'Iphigenie en Tauride'

Stéphane Degout and Nadja Michael in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride." i i

Orestes (Stéphane Degout) and his sister Iphigenia (Nadja Michael) share a moment together in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride," at Theater La Monnaie, in Brussels. Bernd Uhlig hide caption

itoggle caption Bernd Uhlig
Stéphane Degout and Nadja Michael in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride."

Orestes (Stéphane Degout) and his sister Iphigenia (Nadja Michael) share a moment together in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride," at Theater La Monnaie, in Brussels.

Bernd Uhlig

Who's Who

Nadja Michael ………….. Iphigenia

Stephane Degout ………… Orestes

Topi Lehtipuu ……………. Pylades

Werner Van Mechelen …… Thoas

Violet Serena Norduyn …… Diana

La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus

Christophe Rousset, conductor

ACT ONE begins five years after the Trojan War. Back in Aulis, at the end of Gluck's earlier opera Iphigenie en Aulide, Iphigenia's father Agamemnon had intended to sacrifice her to the gods, in exchange for good battle weather. But her life was saved by the goddess Diana.

Now, Iphigenia is serving as a priestess among her enemies, the rather barbaric Scythians, in Tauris. Her mother, Clytemnestra, has killed Agamemnon, and her brother Orestes has killed Clytemnestra in revenge. Iphigenia doesn't yet know any of this, but in act one, she relates a dream in which both of her parents are dead, and she herself is forced by a "fatal power" to kill Orestes.

Thoas, the Scythian King, has a vision of his own — a premonition that a foreigner will murder him. So when two strangers are brought in, he orders Iphigenia and her priestesses to sacrifice them.

In ACT TWO, when Iphigenia meets the prisoners, she can't help but notice that one of them bears a strong resemblance to her brother Orestes. Of course, it is Orestes. But neither one of them figures that out for quite some time. The other stranger is Orestes' friend, Pylades. When the two prisoners are alone, Orestes is tortured by the Furies, who have hounded him ever since he killed his mother.

Iphigenia and Orestes then talk together — but without recognizing each other. Iphigenia finds out that Orestes is from back home, in Greece, and asks for news of King Agamemnon's family — that is, for news of her own family. Orestes tells her what happened, but doesn't tell her who he is. Instead, he says that everyone in the king's family is dead, except Iphigenia's sister Elektra. Iphigenia mourns for her supposedly dead brother, and the second act ends.

As ACT THREE begins, despite Thoas's order, Iphigenia decides to allow one of the two prisoners to go free. She hopes it can be Orestes, as she has grown fond of him. But Orestes has felt he was going mad ever since he killed Clytemnestra. So he urges Pylades to go, feeling he himself is better off dead. Reluctantly, Pylades agrees to escape, with Iphigenia's help.

In ACT FOUR, it's finally time for Iphigenia to go through with the sacrifice, and kill Orestes. But at the sacrificial altar, they finally recognize one another. When Thoas finds out who his priestess and the prisoner really are, he decides to kill them both. But just then Pylades returns with an army of Greeks. The two sides battle until the goddess Diana appears. She puts a stop to the fighting, and grants Iphigenia and Orestes a safe passage home.



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