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Iphigenia in Tauris CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK (1714 – 1787)

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Table of Contents Welcome........................................................................................................................................................... 3 Iphigenia in Tauris: Characters and Synopsis................................................................................. 4 Iphigenia in Tauris: Composer and Librettist Biographies........................................................ 5 Iphigenia in Tauris: Opera at a Glance............................................................................................... 7 Iphigenia in Tauris: What to Look for.................................................................................................. 8 Iphigenia in Tauris: Listening Guide................................................................................................... 10

Cover: The COC presents Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris. Susan Graham as Iphigenia in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, 2006. Photo: Dan Rest Below: Susan Graham (centre). Photo: Robert Kusel

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Canadian Opera Company 2011/2012

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide


Welcome Dear Educators and Students! Welcome to the Canadian Opera Company’s 2011/2012 season! Our season begins with a look back in time to the early beginnings of opera. Before the big spectacles of the 18th- and 19th-century operas, elegant and refined operas dominated the scene. Gluck’s opera Iphigenia in Tauris embodies some of the major movements happening in opera at the time: stressing the importance of the relationship between words and music, and the composition of music that enhanced the meaning and emotion of the text. The myth of Iphigenia and her tragic family was the perfect source material for Gluck’s compositional style. He embraced the heightened, sometimes exaggerated, emotions of the text and tried to capture their expressive power through his pure and beautiful melodies. Director Robert Carsen reinforces the simplicity and subdued elegance of Gluck’s style in his minimalist production.

To help you discover the beauty of Gluck’s masterpiece, the COC has designed a study guide to empower you to be an engaged listener and observer, and encourage you to actively participate in the opera experience. The Iphigenia in Tauris study guide introduces you to the key figures involved in the creation of the opera, and deepens your understanding of the characters and story. Is listening to an opera intimidating for you and/or your students? Not to worry. We’ve highlighted the composer’s musical techniques and their significance to the story or the overall development of opera in an easy-to-follow Listening Guide. Not sure if you’re going to understand the staging? We’ve got that covered for you too. The What to Look For article explains the creative team’s concept, key points of inspiration for their adaptation of the piece, and visual elements to look for in the opera. Use this study guide as the basis for stimulating and thought-provoking discussions before, during or after your visit to the opera. I invite you to free your imagination and join us in a thrilling season of operatic story-telling! Katherine Semcesen Associate Director, Education and Outreach

The COC presents Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris. Susan Graham (centre, below) as Iphigenia in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, 2006. Photo: Robert Kusel

Canadian Opera Company 2011/2012

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide

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Iphigenia in Tauris: Characters and Synopsis MAIN CHARACTERS Name Iphigenia Orestes Pylades Thoas Diana

Description High Priestess of Diana King of Argos and Mycenae, Iphigenia’s brother King of Phocis, Orestes’ friend King of Tauris Goddess of the Hunt

Voice Type Soprano Baritone Tenor Bass Mezzo-soprano

Pronunciation i-fee-juh-NEE-yuh oh-RES-teez peel-AH-deez TOE-as dye-A-nah

SYNOPSIS ACT I A Temple and Altar in the Sacred Wood of Diana Unaware that her mother Clytemnestra has murdered her father Agamemnon, and that her brother Orestes has slain their mother in retaliation, Iphigenia hides from her father on the island of Tauris where she has become a priestess of the goddess Diana. During a terrible storm she is troubled by dreams about her family. The King of Tauris has himself been troubled by omens signalling his impending doom. Oracles advise Thoas to sacrifice every stranger in the land in order to prevent his demise. Soldiers report that a number of Greeks have been shipwrecked on the shore, and tell the priestesses they must be sacrificed in order to appease the gods. ACT II The Interior of the Temple After the priestesses leave, two captured Greeks are brought into the temple: Orestes and his friend Pylades. Orestes, who is tormented by the Furies for killing his mother, now feels responsible for Pylades’ imminent death. Pylades calms Orestes with the pledge that they will die together. Pylades is taken away, and Orestes sinks into sleep. He awakens from a nightmare to find Iphigenia standing before him, but the brother and sister do not recognize each other. She questions him about her family, and without revealing his identity, Orestes tells Iphigenia of their parents’ fate, further saying that Orestes is also dead. Iphigenia sends the stranger to be sacrificed, and mourns the loss of her family.

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ACT III Iphigenia’s Chamber Iphigenia senses a resemblance between herself and the prisoner. She resolves to save one of the captives by sending him to Greece with a letter for her sister, Electra. Pylades is reunited with Orestes, and Iphigenia tells them Orestes must live and carry the sealed letter. Pylades is happy to die for his friend, but Orestes refuses, seizes the sacrificial knife and threatens to take his own life if Iphigenia will not spare Pylades. Iphigenia helps Pylades escape. ACT IV The Temple and Altar Iphigenia tries repeatedly to perform the sacrifice, but cannot bring herself to harm Orestes. Orestes encourages her to carry out her obligations to Thoas and the gods, and in the final moment, calls out, “Iphigenia, beloved sister.” He and Iphigenia finally recognize one another. Thoas bursts in and orders Orestes be killed immediately, but Pylades has returned with an army of Greek soldiers. Thoas is killed in the ensuing fray, which is halted when Diana herself appears to pardon Orestes and quiet the Furies. Diana proclaims Orestes as the new ruler of Greece and sends the brother and sister home reunited.

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide


Iphigenia in Tauris: Composer and Librettist Biographies COMPOSER BIOGRAPHY Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714 – 1787) Composer Christoph Willibald Gluck was born July 2, 1714 in Erasbach, Upper Palatinate, Germany. His interest in music was evident from an early age. His father was opposed to a career in music and wanted Gluck to follow in his footsteps and become a forester.

The COC presents Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris. Susan Graham as Iphigenia in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, 2006. Photo: Dan Rest

Gluck ran away at age 13 to Prague where he earned his living singing and playing various instruments in orchestras and churches. Gluck had little formal musical training and was almost completely self-taught. His early career as a musician and composer took him all over Europe, where he played in orchestras and accepted composing commissions. In 1752, at the age of 38, he settled in Vienna, which was to be his home, apart from some extended visits to Paris, for the rest of his life. He married Maria Anna Bergin, which was advantageous on at least two levels: she was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and she had connections to the imperial court, which helped Gluck’s career. Another advantageous connection was his friendship with Count Durazzo, an important Viennese theatrical figure who brought French comedic opera (opéra comique) to the city and to Gluck, who had a successful run at composing in that particular style. Durazzo also introduced Gluck to the choreographer Gasparo Angiolini and Raniero de’ Calzabigi, a multi-talented man of theatre and a follower of the French Enlightenment. The three artists collaborated on a rebellious new ballet of Don Juan (1761), which incorporated more of the French influences they admired. With de’ Calzabigi, Gluck would create his three “reform” operas: Orfeo ed Euridice (1762), Alceste (1767) and Paride ed Elena (1770). With the premiere of Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck provided a turning point in the history of opera. This reform aimed to move away from opera seria (“serious opera”), a form of opera popular in Italy, doing away with complex plots and overly ornate music that he and his collaborators perceived to be a hindrance to real expression. Instead they sought a noble simplicity in both music and drama.

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The continued French influence on his work led Gluck to compose his first serious French opera, Iphigénie en Aulide (1774). This was a triumph when it premiered in Paris, at the Académie Royale, where Gluck was also enjoying the support of a former Vienna pupil of his, Marie-Antoinette, the French dauphine. The rest of Gluck’s career was spent living in Vienna, visiting Paris and composing operas for the French theatre. Highlights of that period include the expanded Frenchlanguage version of Orfeo ed Euridice, titled Orphée, a reworking of Alceste and his final masterpiece, Iphigenia in Tauris (1779). A series of strokes left Gluck too weak to travel, and he spent his last days in Vienna, living in high style right until his death on Nov. 15, 1787.

LIBRETTIST BIOGRAPHY Nicolas-François Guillard (1752 – 1814) Born Jan. 16, 1752 in Chartres, France, Nicolas François Guillard was considered the most skillful French librettist of his time, receiving a government pension and a place on the Paris Opéra’s Comité de Lecture. Guillard is best known for adapting literary, liturgical, and dramatic texts into libretti for the operatic stage. Though Guillard’s libretto of Iphigenia in Tauris was his first, it was also to be his greatest poetic masterpiece. Gluck was not originally interested in the story and the libretto was offered to French composer Gossec. After a change of heart Gluck collaborated with Guillard, paring the story down from five to four acts and requesting more verses to several pieces (i.e. “O malheureuse Iphigénie”). In addition to Iphigenia in Tauris, Guillard also worked with Italian composer Sacchini on Chiméne (1783), his operatic adaptation of the play Le Cid, as well as Dardanus (1784) and Oedipe à Colone (1786). He also wrote the libretto for Les Horaces (1786), an opera composed by Mozart’s adversary Antonio Salieri. Guillard died in Paris, France on Dec. 26, 1814.

Below: The COC presents Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris. Susan Graham as Iphigenia in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, 2006. Photo: Robert Kusel

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Canadian Opera Company 2011/2012

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide


Iphigenia in Tauris at a Glance

AUDIENCE RECEPTION: The opera was well received by Paris audiences. In fact, the Académie Royale commissioned a composition of Iphigenia in Tauris from both Gluck and his greatest rival for the top composer at the Paris Opéra, Niccolò Piccinni, at the same time. When Piccinni’s opera premiered in 1781 it was a flop compared to the successful reception received by Gluck’s interpretation two years earlier. Iphigenia in Tauris was one of the greatest triumphs of Gluck’s career. Two years later in 1781, he produced a German version for Vienna, Iphigenia auf Tauris, his last work for the stage.

COMPOSED: 1776 – 1779

PREMIERE: May 18, 1779, Paris Opéra

SOURCE MATERIAL: The drama is based on the play Iphigenia in Tauris by the ancient Greek dramatist Euripides, which deals with Greek mythological stories concerning the family of Agamemnon in the aftermath of the Trojan War.

LANGUAGE: French

VERSION PERFORMED BY COC: Co-production of Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera and Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

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What is a co-production? A co-production, or “co-pro” as it is affectionately referred to in the opera world, is when two or more companies pool financial and artistic resources to create a brand new opera production.

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LENGTH OF PERFORMANCE: Approximately two hours, 10 minutes with one intermission

Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide

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Iphigenia in Tauris: What to Look for So much thought goes into the staging of an opera. Lighting, sets, props, costumes, characterization, movements and gestures have a vital role to play in the telling of the story. So while your ears are enchanted by the expressive score, here are a few fascinating visual creations that your eyes can feast on:

THE PROPS In a minimalist theatre approach, very few props are used so that the focus of the audience remains on the physical gestures, bodies and emotions of the performers. And the few props that are used are charged with symbolic and emotional significance. You will see water on stage and props such as knives and ropes. These simple items are transformed, under lights and through the suspension of disbelief, into rivers of blood, bonds that cannot be broken and deadly tools used by Iphigenia in her role as Diana’s high priestess.

THE CONCEPT In this production, director Robert Carsen focuses on the curse and tragedy that surrounds the family. The idea of being trapped in a nightmare penetrates the entire piece. The director uses minimalist theatre techniques to emphasize the inner struggles of the characters in this opera, and to ensure that the emphasis throughout the performance is on the emotion and acting of the singers and dancers rather than on elaborate costume and set decoration.

THE COSTUMES Black dresses and simple suits are also part of the minimalist approach. With black costumes on a black set, there are few distractions from the faces and expressive hand gestures used by the performers.

THE SET A large black box – with only a raised platform, trap doors, and hidden entrances – is the entire set for this production. The set creates a feeling of being enclosed and physically emphasizes the fact that each character’s inner turmoil is so all-consuming there is no real way of escape. Even entrances and exits appear in the dark, suggesting that the only way to escape the island of Tauris is through death. The writing on the wall serves as another reminder that Orestes and Iphigenia are trapped in an inescapable nightmare. Everywhere they look, there are signs of their horrific family past, their own fate as “writing on the wall.” But when the goddess Diana takes pity on Orestes and Iphigenia and sends them home, the set transforms through simple, yet deeply meaningful, movements of light and stage walls. By the end of the opera the stage is filled with light and open space, symbolizing their new-found freedom.

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THE LIGHTING So much of the magic of live theatre relies upon an effective lighting design. Note how the lighting combines with a dark set to mask openings, giving the appearance of magical entrances and mysterious exists. Consider how the godly characters are accompanied by brighter, whiter lights, and how the characters in a state of sleep, or who are experiencing moments of indecision, appear in shadows or blue-tinged light. THE CAST Twenty dancers and ten supernumeraries (non-singing actors) appear on stage to represent the female and male choruses who are singing from the orchestra pit. They are charged with expressing the emotion of the music and text through their gestures and movements. The tempest scene in the first four minutes of the opera is very important. The scene is a choreographed portrayal of the murders of Orestes and Iphigenia’s parents: Agammemnon and Clytemnestra.

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide


The COC presents Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris. Above: A scene from the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, 2006. Below: Susan Graham (centre) as Iphigenia in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, 2006. Photos: Robert Kusel

Canadian Opera Company 2011/2012

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Iphigenia in Tauris: Listening Guide Gluck’s contribution to the development of western music lies predominantly in opera. In Gluck’s day there were two dominating operatic styles in Europe – opera seria (“serious opera”) in Italy and opéra comique (“comic opera”) in France. In opera seria, the storylines were based on more serious themes such as mythology or the glory of the nobility; these operas were quite structured with little flow between arias (solos), choruses, ensembles and orchestral pieces. Opéra comique, by contrast, was less formally structured and was based on stories appealing to the public, rather than the court. Both styles encouraged the singers to improvise and show off during arias, sometimes making the melodies and text unrecognizable and therefore diminishing the overall emotion in the drama. Gluck had an idea: what would happen to the drama if composers returned to opera’s roots in Greek tragedies and wrote music with the sole purpose of

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furthering the drama in the piece? He sought to find out on his own and composed several successful operas based on these revolutionary and controversial concepts. This experiment resulted in two of his most famous operas: Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and Iphigenia in Tauris (1779), both of which have stood the test of time and continue to be regularly performed on opera stages today. The tracks listed below correspond to the complimentary Iphigenia in Tauris Listening Guides CD, available with school group bookings only. Based on the recording Iphigénie en Tauride, Archiv 471 133-2. Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, conductor. With Mireille Delunsch, Simon Keenlyside, Yann Beuron, Laurent Naouri, Alexia Cousin. 1999 live recording.

MUSICAL EXCERPT: Act I, aria: “Ô toi qui me prolongeas mes jours” (“O thou who prolonged my days”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY Having recounted a disturbing dream in which she sees her father killed by her mother, her mother’s subsequent murder by her brother Orestes and finally herself turning the sacrificial knife on him, Iphigenia turns to Diana in prayer, asking her to end her suffering with death.  MUSICAL SIGNIFICANCE This aria is a perfect example of the style of writing that Gluck is known for: conveying strong emotions through a pure and tuneful vocal line and light orchestral (instrumental) accompaniment. Gluck gives us a glimpse into Iphigenia’s heartache and emotional exhaustion by repeating the line “je t’implore” (“I implore thee”) six times in total, three times by Iphigenia and then repeated three more times by the orchestra [0:19 – 1:17]. With each repetition, the phrase “je t’implore” begins on a higher note than before, emphasizing Iphigenia’s urgent pleas to Diana. Though the music sounds relatively sweet and serene in the first part of the solo, the true depth of Iphigenia’s despair is revealed with Gluck moving the piece into a minor key (usually evocative of sadness, anger, etc.) when she sings about wanting to be reunited with her brother, “malheureux Oreste” (“unfortunate Orestes”) [1:28 – 1:33].

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide


FURTHER REFLECTION Don’t let the “simplicity” of Gluck’s music fool you. Perhaps compared to a large Beethoven symphony a composition like Iphigenia in Tauris seems deceptively straightforward, but there is great thought, skill, experimentation and risk in Gluck’s score. Sometimes less is more and a simple melody can convey the same emotional and dramatic punch as a magnificent, over-the-top solo. Take a moment and think of some of the music you listen to today that consoles you when you are feeling sad. What is the texture like? Is the music loud? Soft? How many people are singing the song? What instruments are used? What is it about the song that comforts your grief or uplifts you? Compare your thoughts with those of your classmates. Notice how each individual has their own definition of “sad” or “uplifting” music. What were some of the similar traits? What was different?

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MUSICAL EXCERPT: Act II, aria: “Dieux qui me poursuivez” (“Gods who pursue me”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY Iphigenia’s long-lost brother Orestes and his friend Pylades have been captured by the Scythians. Orestes expresses disappointment with himself for bringing about his friend’s death on Tauris. MUSICAL SIGNIFICANCE Orestes echoes Iphigenia’s sentiments from her first aria (explored above), begging for the gods to end his suffering. But Gluck’s approach to the same feelings in this solo is completely opposite to what we heard Iphigenia sing in Act I. The music highlights Orestes’ agitation, anger and frustration through use of tremolando (trembling) string instruments and a louder and more aggressive orchestration with the inclusion of horns, trumpets and timpani (low drums) in the accompaniment. Compare this with Iphigenia’s lament and acceptance of her fate, which is more calm and serene. There is also an air of triumph that reveals Orestes’ assertion of his ability to handle the fate the gods have bestowed on him. Overall, the tempo (speed of the music) is brisk but Gluck abruptly slows down the pace at “j’ai comblé la mesure” (“I have gone to the extreme”) signifying Orestes’ inner turmoil and remorse for his darkest deed: the killing of his mother [1:09 – 1:16].

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MUSICAL EXCERPT: Act II, aria: “La calme rentre dans mon coeur” (“Calm has returned to my heart”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY After his friend Pylades is taken away by the guards to be sacrificed, Orestes falls into a daze trying to summon a sense of peace in the gods’ decision to let him live.

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MUSICAL SIGNIFICANCE Until this point, most composers wrote operas with the notion that the music was more important than the drama. Gluck abandons this idea in this aria and instead focuses on using the music to add another layer of drama. He writes music that directly contradicts the text to reveal the inner truth and feelings of Orestes. Though Orestes sings of a calmness returning to his heart, the orchestra is painting a very different picture: Orestes is tormented by remorse for his crimes. The uneasy rhythm of the ostinato (repeated notes) of the violas and sforzando accent (an instruction by the composer to play the note with a sudden and strong emphasis) on the first note of every bar, alludes to Orestes’ underlying troubled state of mind and the anxiety in his soul. This compositional and dramatic technique, of having the music evoke sentiments that oppose the text, would be further used and explored by opera composers in the 18th and 19th centuries. FURTHER REFLECTION Think of a situation when you’ve (un)intentionally lied to yourself to get through a situation. What did it feel like? In the end, did this solution prove helpful or did it make the situation worse?

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MUSICAL EXCERPT: Act II, aria: “Ô malheureuse Iphigenie” (“O wretched Iphigenia”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY Not knowing Orestes is her brother, Iphigenia questions the captive Greek about Mycenae, their shared home. She laments the common fate with the other priestesses as exiles without family.  MUSICAL SIGNIFICANCE This aria is a lament – an expression of grief. The music, however, is written in a major key that is often associated with positive and uplifting emotions of happiness, triumph and joy. An odd choice, especially since Iphigenia sings that her country is destroyed, they are alone and without hope. Perhaps Gluck intentionally set the text to the serene and peaceful music to hint that hope is not lost and to foreshadow the happy ending. Opera is rooted in traditions found in ancient Greek tragedies. One of these traditions is the role of the Greek chorus, which became an important dramatic and compositional tool in early operas. The chorus (group of singers) emphasizes the emotion in the scene by providing commentary on the action, or warning, or sympathizing with the lead character(s). In this instance, a female chorus of priestesses join Iphigenia in her lament with their mournful cries (“Mêlez vos cris plaintifs à mes gémissements!”) [3:05 – 4:43], emphasizing their collective anguish.

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Canadian Opera Company 2011/2012

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide


The COC offers a wide variety of school programs for Kindergarten to Grade 12. To find out more, visit our website at coc.ca/Explore or contact: Education & Outreach Canadian Opera Company Tel: 416-306-2392 Fax: 416-363-5584 education@coc.ca Iphigenia Study Guide editors: Katherine Semcesen, Associate Director, Education and Outreach; Nikita Gourski, Development Communications Assistant; Suzanne Vanstone, Senior Communications Manager, Editorial; Gianna Wichelow, Senior Communications Manager, Creative; Carly Anderson, Children & Youth Programs, Manager The COC Gratefully Acknowledges:

Charitable Registration Number: 11883 4829 RR0001

Above: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Sam Javanrouh

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Iphigenia in Tauris Study Guide  

Study Guide to Iphigenia in Tauris by Gluck as performed by the Canadian Opera Company in fall, 2011.

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