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Next in our handy guide to female opera characters, we find out more about Iphigenia…if you’re coming to our concert on Sunday at the Royal Festival Hall, you’ll get to hear her distraught aria, taken from Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride.
Who was she?
Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon, one of the Greek commanders in the war against the Trojans. Her father was told that in order to sail to Troy he needed to sacrifice his daughter to Artemis. He lured her to Aulis with the promise of marriage to the warrior hero Achilles but on her arrival he killed her instead. (Iphigenia’s mother later murdered Agamemnon in revenge.)
The myth continues that at the last minute, Artemis replaced Iphigenia with a deer and instead took her to the land of Tauris. As Artemis’ priestess, Iphigenia had the gruesome task of sacrificing any foreigners who had the misfortune to land in Tauris. At one point she almost killed her own brother Orestes but on discovering his true identity they were able to escape Tauris together.
What was she famous for?
In stark contrast to Medea who took murderous revenge on those who wronged her, Iphigenia is most famous for going willingly to death at the hands of her father.
Agamemnon’s betrayal of his daughter has proved popular in theatre, with plays by Jean Racine and Neil LaBute amongst others.
Iphigenia’s rescue from Tauris also inspired several operas, of which Gluck’s in turn inspired a ballet by Pina Bausch.
Was she a queen, heroine or ladykiller?
Although today we might see Iphigenia as a passive figure, her decision to sacrifice herself for the success of the Greek armies would have been seen as a noble, patriotic act – she was in fact a heroine of sorts.
Who will be singing Iphigenia and when?
Anna Caterina Antonacci will be singing O malheureuse Iphigénie from Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride in our Three eras of divas concert on 30 September 2012. You can listen to a recording of Maria Callas singing it here.