Christoph Willibald Gluck • Iphigénie en Tauride
Tragédie opéra in four acts
Libretto by Nicolas François Guillard based on the tragedy with the same title (1757) by Claude Guimond de La Touche
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When Christoph Willibald Gluck arrived in Paris in November 1778 to conduct the rehearsals for Iphigénie en Tauride, Goethe was just finishing the original version of his stage play, Iphigenie auf Tauris, which was premièred a few weeks before Gluck’s Iphigénie. The mythological subject matter follows on from Iphigenia’s previous history. She was supposed to be sacrificed to Diana, but the goddess spared her and carried her off to Tauris, where she was forced to serve the goddess as her priestess and sacrifice any foreigners who arrived on the island. Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his friend Pylades also risked the same fate.
In 1801, Schiller staged this Gluck opera in Weimar together with Goethe, and professed that it had given him “infinite delight”: “Never before has music moved me as purely and beautifully as this; it is a world of harmony that almost penetrates the soul.” With this work, Gluck took the final step in his programme of operatic reform, radically distancing himself from both the formulaic opera seria, with its rigid sequence of numbers, and traditional French opera, to create a touching, psychologically sound musical drama with self-contained scenes and integrated arias. Gluck had long since given the chorus an active role, and in this work, the ballet scenes that were obligatory in Paris are no longer harmless, non-committal amusements, but organically integrated in the action. In Iphigénie en Tauride, Gluck’s maxim that his music “should speak the language of the heart, credibly portray great human passions, and serve poetry” finds convincing formal expression.