Richard Wagner's entire life was about reforming opera. While in his youth – and surrounded by his existential difficulties – he would teach and conduct, arranging some of them, numerous pieces of importance to him by one of his less widely respected predecessors, Christoph Willibald Gluck – the developer of his own early opera reforms. Wagner's admiration for Gluck was so great that in 1847 he created a revision of the composer's early Iphigénie en Aulide for the Dresden theatre, and then himself taught and conducted the work's premiere. Although this version, Wagnerian in both its dramaturgy and arrangement, has since fallen into obscurity, we will be performing it in our desire to get a sharper image and a better understanding of the genius who created the Ring tetralogy.
The Greek camp along the coast of Aulis
Overcome with sorrow, Agamemnon, chief commander of the Greek forces stuck by the coast of Aulis, exits his tent. He addresses the goddess Artemis, who has punished the Hellenes with calm winds, preventing them from sailing against Troy. Agamemnon is willing to forgo avenging the injury the city has done to the Greeks, along with the glory that would be due to him as chief commander, as he is unable to fulfil the instruction from the goddess to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigeneia. Instead, he has devised a plan to save her, sending his servant, Arcas, out to intercept his wife, Clytemnestra, and their daughter on their way to Aulis to make them believe that Achilles, the girl's betrothed, has found a new love in the meantime. He would thus avert them from coming to Aulis, allowing his daughter to escape death.The seer Calchas arrives, followed by the warriors and their commanders, insisting that he tell them what sacrifice the goddess Artemis expects from them. The seer reveals the horrible demand, which the Greeks wish to fulfil immediately. Calchas attempts to convince the tormented chief commander: no plan to save his daughter will be any use, because the goddess is bent on exerting her will. Their conversation is cut short by the arrival of Clytemnestra and Iphigeneia. The despairing king welcomes his family. Iphigeneia seeks her betrothed, Achilles, in the crowd, but cannot find him. Her mother encourages her to give up her love for a man who has already fallen in love with another, telling her that Agamemnon had sent Arcas to intercept them with news of the infidelity and the order return to Argos to avoid the shame, but they had missed each other on the way. Iphigeneia despairingly curses her faithless beloved when he appears before her. Achilles, however, dismisses the accusation of infidelity and assures the girl of his love. Forgetting her foolish delusion and full of hope for their approaching nuptials, Iphigeneia happily returns to her beloved's side.
Surrounded by the women of Aulis, Iphigeneia prepares for her wedding. Her peace of mind is not complete, however, since the strife between her father and Achilles has cast a shadow over the happiness of her nuptials. Clytemnestra, on the other hand, reassures her daughter as she heads off for the shrine at her betrothed's side. The ceremony is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Arcas, who reveals that Iphigeneia is the sacrifice that Artemis demands of Agamemnon. The girl collapses in a faint upon hearing the news, but the Thessalonians are not fazed. To a man, they back their captain and the wedding. Clytemnestra begs Achilles to protect her daughter against the cruelty of both her father and the goddess. The hero promises to do so, but in defense of Agamemnon, he also says that he understands the unhappy father's decision. Achilles sends for Agamemnon and a heated exchange ensues, which Achilles ends by informing Agamemnon that if he wishes to sacrifice his own daughter, then he will first have to kill him. Agamemnon is caught between avenging the injury suffered as chief commander and the pain he feels as a father. Eventually, it his paternal heart that wins out. He asks Arcas to accompany his wife and daughter on the road to Mycenae, thus disobeying the command from the goddess. He offers himself up as the sacrifice Iphigeneia's place.
Clytemnestra and Iphigeneia are getting ready to depart, but the enraged Greek warriors prevent them from leaving. Achilles arrives and once again assures the girl of his love, but Iphigeneia has already decided to agree to the bloody sacrifice. She asks Achilles to accept her decision to win a victory for her in Troy. The commander, however, is unyielding: he will protect his beloved, even if he has to kill Agamemnon to do so. Clytemnestra also rushes to protect her daughter from the Greeks, but the girl pleads with her mother to accept the divine command and live for Iphigeneia's younger brother, Orestes, instead. The sacrifice appears at the altar, but the ritual is interrupted by Achilles, who has arrived to rescue the girl. Agamemnon also rushes to the sacrificial altar, but suddenly Iphigeneia is enveloped in a cloud. Appearing amidst thunder and a blinding light is the goddess Artemis. It is not the girl's blood that she wanted, after all. Instead, she wished to avenge the Greeks' earlier irreverence. She accepts Iphigeneia as a priestess and takes her with her. The long-awaited wind starts blowing, and the Greek ships head off for Troy.