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Fresh and Intense

Gluck's 'Iphigénie en Tauride',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride is a very concentrated work. It was written for the Paris Opéra, one of a group of six works they commissioned from him in a bid to modernise the repertory. In form and structure it owes a lot to the operas of Lully and Rameau, which were still current at the Opéra at this period. Like them, Gluck uses a flexible mixture of accompanied recitative, arioso, aria, ensemble and dance. But Gluck's opera is far shorter than the Lullian models, with only two hours of music, and though there are ensembles and dances, they are firmly integrated into the drama, there is no lightness, no divertissement. The plot, and Gluck's treatment of it, represents the high seriousness of the enlightenment and Gluck's own reforms to the operatic genre.

There are just four main characters. Iphigenia, transported to Tauris by the goddess Diana to be a priestess in her temple in lieu of being sacrificed by Agamemnon at Aulis. Thoas, King of Tauris, cursed by the gods and insistent that every stranger to Tauris' shores be put to death. Orestes, Iphigenia's brother, and his friend Pylades who, as strangers washed up on the shores of Tauris, are condemned to die.

Euripdes' play, on which the opera is based, makes much of the fact that Iphigenia and Orestes do not know each other's identities; throughout the play they come close to discovering this, but only do so at the end. This tantalising approach to discovery remains in the opera, counter-pointed by Iphigenia's feelings of sympathy for Orestes and her unwillingness to slaughter him even though she does not know he is her brother.

There is no sub-plot, the only counterpoint being the intense relationship between Orestes and Pylades, each being desperate to die for each other.

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Copyright © 3 October 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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