“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt
'Iphigénie en Aulide' (Iphigeneia in Aulis) is an opera in three acts by Christoph Willibald Gluck, the first work he wrote for the Paris stage. The libretto was written by Leblanc du Roullet and was based on Jean Racine’s tragedy “Iphigénie”. It was premiered on 19 April 1774 by the Paris Opéra in the second Salle du Palais-Royal.
Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (2 July 1714 – 15 November 1787) was an opera composer of the early classical period. After many years at the Habsburg court at Vienna, Gluck brought about the practical reform of opera dramaturgical practices that many intellectuals had been campaigning for over the years. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, among them ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ and ‘Alceste’, he broke the stranglehold that Metastasian opera seria had enjoyed for much of the century.
The strong influence of French opera in these works encouraged Gluck to move to Paris, which he did in November 1773. Fusing the traditions of Italian opera and the French national genre into a new synthesis, Gluck wrote eight operas for the Parisian stages. One of the last of these, ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’, was a great success and is generally acknowledged to be his finest work. Though he was extremely popular and widely credited with bringing about a revolution in French opera, Gluck’s mastery of the Parisian operatic scene was never absolute, and after the poor reception of his ‘Echo et Narcisse’ he left Paris in disgust and returned to Vienna to live out the remainder of his life.
“ ‘Iphigénie en Aulide’ did not prove popular at first, although its overture was applauded generously from the start. [After the premiere] it was billed on 22, 24 and 29 April only to have its first run interrupted by the 1 May to 15 June 1774 closing of the theatre on account of the illness and death of Louis XV ...The opera was not returned to the stage until 10 January 1775, but it was revived annually in 1776-1780, 1782-1793, 1796-1824. It was mounted in Paris more than 400 times in this interval of 50 years.” It eventually turned out to be Gluck’s most frequently performed opera in Paris.
For the 1775 revival, Gluck revised Iphigénie en Aulide ... introducing the goddess Diana (soprano) at the end of the opera as a dea ex machina, and altering and expanding the divertissements. So, broadly speaking, there are two versions of the opera; but the differences are by no means so great or important as those between “Orfeo ed Euridice” and “Orphée et Euridice” or between the Italian and the French “Alceste”.
The plot has as follows: Calchas, the great seer, prophesies that King Agamemnon must sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia, in order to guarantee fair winds for the king’s fleet en route to Troy –- a demand that comes from the goddess Diana herself. Throughout the opera, Agamemnon struggles with the terrible choice between sparing his daughter's life and ensuring his subjects’ welfare.
Agamemnon summons his daughter to Aulis, the port where the Greek navy is gathering, ostensibly for her to marry Achilles, the great warrior hero. Then, reconsidering his decision to sacrifice her, the king tries to prevent her arriving with the fabricated explanation that Achilles has been unfaithful. Iphigenia, however, has already reached the Greek camp accompanied by her mother Clytaemnestra. The two women are dismayed and angered by Achilles’ apparent inconstancy, but he eventually enters declaring his enduring love for the girl, and the first act ends with a tender scene of reconciliation.
The wedding ceremony is due to be celebrated and festivities take place with dances and choruses. When the couple are about to proceed to the temple, however, Arcas, the captain of Agamemnon’s guards, reveals that the king is awaiting his daughter before the altar in order to kill her. Achilles and Clytaemnestra rush to save the girl from being sacrificed. Agamemnon finally seems to give up his plan to kill her.
The third act opens with a chorus of Greeks: They object to the king’s decision in case they are never allowed to reach Troy, and demand the ceremony be celebrated. At this point, Iphigenia resigns herself to her fate, and offers her own life for the sake of her people, while Clytaemnestra entreats the vengeance of Jupiter upon the ruthless Greeks. As the sacrifice is going to be held, however, Achilles bursts in with his warriors and the opera concludes with Gluck’s most significant revision of the original myth: Calchas’ voice rises over the general turmoil and announces that Diana has changed her mind about the sacrifice and consents to the marriage. In the second 1775 version Diana appears personally to consecrate both the wedding and Agamemnon’s voyage.
Here is the complete opera with De Nederlandse Opera (September 2011) with Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble – Directed Marc Minkowski and staging by Pierre Audi. Iphigénie: Véronique Gens; Diane: Salomé Haller; Agamemnon: Nicolas Testé; Clytemnestre: Anne Sofie von Otter; Achille: Frédéric Antoun.