Iphigenie En Tauride

“Iphigenie en Tauride” or “Iphigenia in Tauris,” a grand opera in 4 acts, with score by Christoph Willibald Gluck and text by Guillard, was produced in Paris in 1779.

Characters

  • Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon
  • Diana, a goddess
  • First Priestess of Diana’s temple
  • A Greek woman
  • Pylades, friend of Orestes
  • Orestes, brother of Iphigenia
  • An attendant of Diana’s temple
  • Thoas, king of Taurica
  • A Scythian
  • Choruses of furies, priestesses, Greeks, Scythians and guards

“Iphegenia in Tauris” is a continuation of “Iphigenie in Aulis”. King Agamemnon’s daughter has been saved by Diana from death at the altar of Aulis, where her father had been directed to slay her. The relentless goddess has had a goat substituted as the sacrifice and Iphigenia has afterward been carried on a cloud to Tauris, where she has been made high priestess to the Scythians. It is an uncongenial lot for the loving Grecian woman, for human sacrifices are required at her hands. The only circumstance which has sweetened her life in the fifteen years of her residence on Tauris has been her ability occasionally to rescue some stranger from death upon the sacrificial pile. To make her misery more intense, Iphigenia is visited by a hideous dream, in which she sees the palace, in which she has spent her childhood, overthrown by a tempest; her father, wounded unto death, fleeing from a murderous fury who proves to be her mother, and she herself about to stab her brother Orestes through the heart. In her unhappiness she cries aloud to Diana,

O thou that once my life didst save,
Take back thy gift, yea, quickly take it.

But Diana, instead, sends her another task which rends her heart. Thoas, king of the Scythians, orders her to sacrifice two strangers who have been thrown upon his shores, the gods having warned him in a vision that his life would be in danger should either of them escape. Orestes and Pylades, who have come to Tauris for the purpose of carrying off the statue of Diana, are brought in, loaded with chains.

Learning that they are her countrymen, Iphingeia determines to save one of them in order to send him with messages to her sister Electra. She is strangely drawn to save Orestes for this errand. Little does she fancy that he is her brother who, having slain their mother Clyemnestra, has fled, pursued by her shade and its attendant furies. Orestes tells her of the disaster which has overtaken her family and she learns with horror of the murder of her father and mother. When Iphigenia tells the two friends that she cannot rescue both, each pleads piteously that the other may be saved. Orestes argues that life is only a burden to him and that death would come as a glorious gift. Reluctantly, she complies with his desires and sends Pylades on with the messages to her sister. Orestes is led to the altar. Iphigenia can be brought to lift the sacrificial knife only after a sharp struggles with herself. As the blood-thirsty mob urge her to strike, Orestes murmurs in her ear, “Thus once didst thou perish in Aulis.” She then knows that it is her brother she is about to put to death and refuses to be guilty of his blood. Thoas, who recently has learned that the priestess has allowed Pylades and Orestes to escape, enters in fury and declares that Iphigenia and Orestes shall perish together on the altar. But the doughty Pylades, who has returned with an army, stabs him and disperses the Scythians. Diana now appears and in her words may be learned the happy denouement:

Be still, and receive my eternal decree.
Scythians, ye shall restore to the Greeks this my statue.
All too long have ye, in this your savage country,
Grossly defiled my altar with your bloody rites.
Though shalt henceforth enjoy my favour, Orestes.
Thy repentance has for guilt atoned.
Mycenae longs for thee, take thou her throne in peace
And take Iphegenia. To her country restore her!

This is the last and the finest of the grand operas of Gluck. “here,” to quote from one of his critics, “he fuses the two elements forever at war in his earlier operas – musical beauty and dramatic truth.”

Among the strongest passages are the overture depicting the tempest; Iphigenia’s recitative, relating her dream; her plea to Diana to slay her, “O though that once my life didst save;” the somber chorus of priestesses, “When shall our tears?” Thoas’ expression of his superstitious fears; and the aria of Orestes abandoning himself to grief, “Ye who my steps pursue.” The song of Pylades, “Thy Faithful Friends,” is one of the finest passages from Gluck’s pen. Also noteworthy are the aria following, “There reignest calm within my breast;” the chorus of furies, “Chastise the wicked doer;” and Iphingenia’s expression of grief at Orestes’ recountal, “O unhappy Iphegenia!” In Act III the finest number is Pylades’ noble expression of his love for his friend, “Thou purest, highest joy;” while the strongest passage in Act IV is Iphigenia’s aria calling on Diana to nerve her hand, “I with trembling invoke thee.”