By Robert Carsen
To obtain favourable winds for the Greek fleet at the beginning of the Trojan War, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenie to the goddess Diane. Iphigenie, however, was secretly saved by Diane, and sent to Tauris to serve as her priestess. Driven by anger at the supposed death of her daughter, Clytemnestre murdered her husband Agamemnon. Iphigenie's brother Oreste then killed his mother to avenge his father's death. Haunted by an oracle which has decreed his death at the hands of a stranger, Thoas, King of Tauris, has forced Iphigenie to sacrifice any stranger who appears. Fleeing the vengeance of the Furies, Oreste is shipwrecked with his friend Pylade in a storm off the coast of Tauris.
Iphigenie and her priestesses pray for deliverance from the storm. Iphigenie then recounts a dream in which she saw her father Agamemnon murdered by her mother Clytemnestre who handed her a sword with which she killed her brother Oreste. Convinced that this dream confirms her brother's death, Iphigenie begs Diane to allow her to die as well. Thoas appears, obsessed with visions of his own mortality. As Oreste and Pylade are led in, Thoas demands that Iphigenie sacrifice the two strangers.
In prison, Oreste feels responsible for the fate of Pylade. Overcome with guilt, he demands that the gods destroy him. Pylade tries to comfort him, saying that at least they will die together. Alone, Oreste is once moreoverwhelmed by guilt at his mother's murder and imagines himself to be tormented by the Furies. Iphigenie appears and questions the stranger. Having no idea of her identity and without revealing his, Oreste reluctantly tells her of the deaths of Agamemnon and Clytemnestre, diverging from the truth only in telling her that Oreste has also died. Iphigenie laments the death of her parents and her brother.
Grieving for the death of her brother, Iphigenie resolves to defy Thoas and save the life of one of the prisoners. Both Oreste and Pylade are prepared to die, but because of the affinity she feels for him, Iphigenie chooses to save Oreste. Left alone, the two friends dispute who should die: Oreste believes the crime of matricide condemns him, while Pylade asserts that sacrifice is the very essence of friendship.
When Iphigenie returns, Oreste threatens to kill himself if Pylade is not freed. Iphigenie yields and asks Pylade to take a letter to Electra in Mycenae. Left alone, Pylade resolves to save Oreste.
Iphigenie begs Diane to give her strength to carry out the sacrifice. The priestesses lead Oreste to the altar and he tells Iphigenie that his death is welcome. As she is about to strike, he recalls how his sister was sacrificed by their father in Aulis and he calls out her name. Brother and sister are reunited. Thoas appears, enraged at Pylade's escape, and demands that Iphigenie sacrifice Oreste. Iphigenie defies him. Pylade appears and kills Thoas. As fighting breaks out, the voice of Diane is heard calling for an end to the cycle of destruction. She declares that Oreste has expunged his guilt and instructs him to return to Mycenae to be king. Oreste introduces Pylade to his sister and a chorus marks the end of the gods' anger.
© Robert Carsen
Iphigenie, High Priestess of Diana ...... Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano)
Oreste, Iphigenie's brother ...... Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Pylade, Oreste's friend ...... Paul Groves (tenor)
Thoas, King of Tauris ...... Clive Bayley (bass)
First Priestess/A Greek Woman ...... Gail Pearson (soprano)
Second Priestess ...... Claire Wild (soprano)
Diane, goddess of hunting ...... Cecile van de Sant (soprano)
A Scythian ...... Jacques Imbrailo (baritone)
A Minister ...... Krzysztof Szumanski (bass-baritone)
Coryphee ...... Kiera Lyness (soprano), Ann Osborne (soprano), Dervla Ramsay (mezzo-soprano), Kate McCarney (mezzo-soprano)
The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment
Ivor Bolton (conductor)