A Sane Sister: Gluck's 'Iphigenie En Tauride'

From the Paris Opéra

The Hit single

After experiencing a murderous nightmare, Iphigeneia prays to the goddess Diana that she might one day be reunited with her brother, Orestes.

Whos's who?

Mireille Delunsch .... Iphigeneia

Stephané Degout ............. Orestes

Yann Beuron ....................... Pylades

Frank Ferrari ....................... Thoas

Salome Haller ................... Diana

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

Ivor Bolton, conductor

Soprano Mireille Delunsch i i

Soprano Mireille Delunsch plays the tormented but triumphant sister in the title role of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride. F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris hide caption

itoggle caption F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris
Soprano Mireille Delunsch

Soprano Mireille Delunsch plays the tormented but triumphant sister in the title role of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride.

F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris

There are plenty of dysfunctional families in opera. But few have ever had more serious family "issues" than the one that provides the backdrop for Christoph Willibald Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride. It's the same psychotic clan that Euripides made famous in his play and that Richard Strauss showcased in his psycho-drama Elektra.

Elektra's household may be one of the most unhappy in all of literature. Her parents, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, were in serious need of a marriage counselor. Agamemnon spent much of his time away from home, in battle, so Clytemnestra took up with another guy. When Agamemnon finally did return from the wars, she killed him. This drove Elektra mad, and it drove her brother, Orestes, to revenge. He murdered Clytemnestra, along with her illicit lover.

Elektra also had a sister, Iphigeneia. So what happened to her? In one version of their story, Agamemnon kills her as a sacrifice to appease the gods and earn good fortune in battle. But in other versions of the legend, she survives — and turns out to be, well, not quite so crazy as the rest of her family. And that's the story Gluck sets to music in Iphigénie en Tauride.

World of Opera host Lisa Simeone presents the happier version of the Iphigeneia story — the one where she survives her troublesome family, saves her brother's life, and returns home to Greece. It's a production starring soprano Mireille Delunsch as Iphigeneia, from the Opéra Garnier, in Paris.

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

The Story of 'Iphigénie en Tauride'

Stephane Degout as Oreste and Mireille Delunsch as his sister Iphigenie i i

Iphigeneia (Mireille Delunsch) is about to have a stranger sacrificed on the altar, until she recognizes him as her long lost brother, Orestes (Stephane Degout), in the Paris Opera's production of Iphigenie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Photos F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris hide caption

itoggle caption Photos F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris
Stephane Degout as Oreste and Mireille Delunsch as his sister Iphigenie

Iphigeneia (Mireille Delunsch) is about to have a stranger sacrificed on the altar, until she recognizes him as her long lost brother, Orestes (Stephane Degout), in the Paris Opera's production of Iphigenie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Gluck.

Photos F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris
Stephane Degout (right) as Oreste and Yann Beuron as Pylade i i

The Scythian king has ordered the sacrifice of Orestes (Stephane Degout, right) and Pylades (Yann Beuron). F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris hide caption

itoggle caption F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris
Stephane Degout (right) as Oreste and Yann Beuron as Pylade

The Scythian king has ordered the sacrifice of Orestes (Stephane Degout, right) and Pylades (Yann Beuron).

F. Ferville/ Opera national de Paris

ACT ONE:The action begins five years after the Trojan War. Back in Aulis, Iphigeneia's father, Agamemnon, had intended to sacrifice her. But her life was saved by the goddess Diana. Now in Tauris (Tauride), Iphigeneia is serving as a priestess among her own enemies, the somewhat barbaric Scythians.

Iphigeneia's mother, Clytemnestra has killed Agamemnon, and Iphigeneia's brother, Orestes, has killed Clytemnestra in revenge. Iphigeneia doesn't know any of this yet, but in act one, she relates a dream, in which both of her parents are dead, and she herself was forced by a "fatal power" to kill her own brother, 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 Iphigeneia and her priestesses to sacrifice them.

ACT TWO: When Iphigeneia 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 him, but Iphigeneia doesn't find 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.

Iphigeneia and Orestes have a chance to talk. They've been apart for 15 years, and do not recognize each other. Iphigeneia finds out Orestes is Greek, and without revealing her identity, asks for news of her family. Orestes tells her what happened, but doesn't reveal his identity either. Instead, he says that everyone is dead, except for Elektra, her sister. Iphigeneia mourns for her supposedly dead brother, as the act ends.

ACT THREE:As the act begins, Iphigeneia is in a tough spot, though she doesn't know it yet. The Scythian king, Thoas, has ordered her to sacrifice the two Greek prisoners — Pylades and her brother, Orestes. Because brother and sister no longer recognize each other, each believes the other is dead.

Now, despite Thoas' order, Iphigeneia 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 since all of the murders in his family, Orestes has felt he was going mad, so he urges Pylades to go free, feeling he himself is better off dead. Reluctantly, Pylades agrees to escape, with Iphigeneia's help.

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

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