Gluck’s Iphigenie and Tauride was written in 1779, was premiered by the Paris Opera and was Gluck’s penultimate opera that was performed more than four hundred times over the next fifty years . He wrote a revised version in 1781 in German, Iphigenia in Tauris which was staged as a tragic singspiel at the National Theatre in Vienna but proved less popular than the original French versions.
Short version of synopsis:
The supposedly dead Iphigenie reunites with her long lost brother and his best friend which ends the cycle of horrific family violence in a happy ending. This is the one sentence version!
In a bit more detail…
Diana, goddess of the hunt, has secretely saved Iphigenie from being sacrificed by her own father, Agamemnon, to aid in the abating of the winds so that he could sail smoothly to fight in the Trojan wars. Diana took Iphigenie off, unknown to all, as one of her high priestesses overseeing human sacrifice on the island of Tauris in the Black Sea. Iphigenie has been there unhappily ever since (but, thankfully alive). In the meantime, Iphigenie’s mother, Clytemnestra has murdered her husband, Agamemnon in revenge for the supposed sacrifice of his own daughter. Iphigenie’s brother, Orestes has then killed their mother in revenge for the death of their father.
The Furies, gods who avenge familial murder, have been driving Orestes mad ever since and he travels to the island of Tauris together with his best friend, Pylades, to steal treasure from Diana to placate the Furies. Pylades is nearly sacrificed himself on the island but happily sister and brother are united.
Gluck tried to pare back the embellished vocal action of Baroque opera, the long arias with lots of runs and trills and repeated words, and present a more solid form of sung drama. Dialogue and recitative have the same weight — and the same orchestral accompaniment — as the arias. Effective drama and beautiful music without vocal acrobatics. Gluck recycled his better musical ideas from earlier operas so has finessed and refined material to great effect. An unusual aspect for Paris Opera at the time was only having one dance number, a Turkish dance at the end of Act One.
Iphigénie en Tauride draws all of Gluck’s opera reforms to their natural conclusion and a work of great power and beauty is the result.