The two Iphigénie operas by Gluck, adapted from the plays by Euripedes, are rarely staged together. This dazzling 2011 production by Pierre Audi at the Amsterdam Music Theatre was part of a special event highlighting the dramatic unity between Iphigénie en Aulide (based on Racine’s tragedy Iphigénie) and Gluck’s follow-up Iphigénie en Tauride. Though the latter has been a longtime fixture in the repertoire, the former has never been without its great fans—like Wagner, who wrote a German-language version—and has been joyfully rediscovered by wider audiences in recent years. Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, under the ever-capable baton of Marc Minkowski, play the lavish score while leads Véronique Gens, Nicolas Testé, and Anne Sofie von Otter assure that the timeless drama, in a distinctly modern staging, feels as urgent as ever.
The Greek army, en route to Troy, is stuck in a windless sea. Diana, goddess of the hunt, demands that King Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to ensure favorable winds for the fleet. The young woman arrives in Aulide, where her sacrifice is to take place, but her mother Clytemnestra begs Iphigenia’s betrothed Achilles to protect her—and eventually Agamemnon, full of remorse, relents. To save her people, who still wish her to go forward with the sacrifice for the sake of the stranded fleet, Iphigenia is prepared to give her life, but Diana—in a significant revision from the original myth—ultimately has a change of heart and consecrates Iphigenia’s marriage to Achilles.