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Oreste in central stage, pointing down into a hole. He is surrounded by an onlooking chorus

Iphigénie en Tauride

Spring 2016

Christoph Willibald Gluck

When Oreste and Pylade are shipwrecked on the island of Tauride, the king Thoas demands they be sacrificed. At the center of the drama is Iphigénie: forced to live among her enemies, she holds Oreste’s life in her hands – unaware that he is her brother.
Spring 2016
  • 5 Stars

    Musically it’s terrific.

    The Guardian

  • 4 Stars

    And if you want to hear world-class singing, that’s what you’ll get from soprano Catherine Carby in the title role.

    The Independant

  • 4 Stars

    Serious opera lovers shouldn’t miss it.

    The Telegraph



On their way to attack Troy, the Greek forces assembled at Aulis; there they waited vainly for wind to fill their sails. The goddess Diana protected Troy, and only consented to revive the wind on the condition that the commander Agamemnonsacrifice his 12 year old daughter, Iphigenia. To this condition he agreed – although, unknown to the Greeks, Diana spirited away the girl at the moment of sacrifice, and placed her in her own temple in the land of Taurus (Crimea).

On his return from Troy to Mycenae, the victorious Agamemnon is murdered by his wife (Clytemnestra) and her lover. In revenge Agamemnon’s son Orestes murders his mother. Pursued by the Furies, he is instructed to steal the image of Diana in her temple at Taurus, and to restore it to the Greeks.

All of the action takes place in the temple of Diana at Taurus, fifteen years after the apparent sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis.

Act I

A terrible storm rages.

Iphigenia tells her companions (Greek captives like her, priestesses of the temple) of a dream she has had. In the dream her home was destroyed, her father killed by her mother, and a blade was passed to her; although her brother Orestes cried for help, she was forced to kill him. During her long captivity in Taurus, Iphigenia has hoped to be reunited with her brother; now she only longs for death.

The Scythian leader, Thoas, is filled with foreboding. His followers arrive with two strangers who were found on the shore; they will be sacrificed to the goddess, like all strangers, to expiate the terrible blood-guilt that oppresses the Scythians. The priestesses are overwhelmed by dread, and the Scythians dance.

Act II

The two new captives are Orestes and Pylades, cousins and lovers. Orestes’ mental health has been perilous since killing his mother and her lover; he now fears that he has brought his friend to certain death. Pylades tries to console him, explaining that dying together should not be a hardship.

A Scythian temple guard separates them. Alone, Orestes senses the Furies closing in on him. He sleeps, and wakes to a vision of Clytemnestra, his mother – but it is Iphigenia. Questioned by her about the fate of Mycenae, he describes the murders of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra – and suggests that Orestes, too, is dead.

Overwhelmed by grief, Iphigenie leads the priestesses in funerary rites for Orestes; they now have no homeland, and she no family.


Iphigenia has readily agreed with the priestesses to free one of the captives. Something draws her to the morbid, brooding captive (Orestes), so when each of the men refuses to leave the other she herself makes the choice. Orestes is distraught that he should live and his friend die; he says that he will kill himself, rather than flee to Greece with a message from Iphigenia. She cedes. Pylades it is who must go.

Act IV

Iphigenia cannot bring herself to sacrifice this stranger. The others have prepared him, and he seems to desire death, but still she cannot strike. At the moment when she is about to kill him, the stranger calls out a blessing on the sister whose sacrifice started this round of revenge: Iphigenia. Iphigenia then recognises her brother, Orestes.

Thoas has heard that one of the captives was freed: furious, he demands that the other be butchered immediately. He does not care that he is requiring a sister to kill her brother.

Pylade returns, and menaces Thoas. The Greeks are about to be slaughtered by the Scythians when the goddess herself intervenes; the Greeks are to return home unmolested, carrying with them her own image. It seems that the sore trials imposed by the gods on the Greeks have abated.