Gluck’s two Euripedes-inspired Iphigénie operas made for a visually and musically stunning double bill in a 2011 production by Pierre Audi at the Amsterdam Music Theatre, highlighting the dramatic unity between Iphigénie en Aulide and follow-up Iphigénie en Tauride. This latter opera has remained popular since its resoundingly successful 1779 Paris premiere, representing the height of Gluck’s operatic reforms: a renewed emphasis on dramatic arc and thematic unity, coupled with clear vocal lines stripped of Baroque ornamentation. The celebrated Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble under Marc Minkowski set the scene as formidable soloists Mireille Delunsch, Laurent Alvaro, and Jean-François Lapointe bring pathos and lyricism to this “crowning achievement of Gluck’s career” (Grove Music).
Iphigenia, now high priestess to Diana on the island of Tauris, is plagued by terrifying dreams in which she kills her brother Orestes to avenge his murder of their mother Clytemnestra, who has slain their father Agamemnon. When Orestes and his friend Pylades are shipwrecked on the island during a storm, King Thoas demands that Iphigenia sacrifice them to appease the gods. After many years apart she does not recognize her brother, but an ineffable bond compels her to go to great lengths to prevent her nightmare from coming true—even if it means defying kings or gods.