A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's
independent monthly newspaper of the musical
theatre, established in 1978.
The action has its roots in the beginning of the Trojan War, when
Agamemnon was forced to carry out a rash vow and consent to the
sacrifice of his elder daughter, Iphigenia, to procure a favorable wind
for the Greek fleet. At the last minute, the goddess Diana rescued
Iphigenia under the cover of a cloud and transported her to Tauris,
where she served as Diana's priestess. Meanwhile, Clytemnestra,
Agamemnon's wife, driven partly by anger at the supposed death of her
daughter, has killed Agamemnon, and Orestes, their son, has, at the
instigation of the gods, killed his mother to avenge his father's murder.
With his friend Pylades, he arrives in Tauris, following the command of
Diana to rescue her images.
The entrance to the temple of Diana As a storm rages, Iphigenia and her
fellow priestesses pray for deliverance from their exile. Iphigenia recounts a
dream in which the palace of Mycenae had burnt to the ground and
Agamemnon was murdered. Her mother had handed her a sword and when
she tried to approach her brother Orestes, she succeeded only in thrusting
the sword into his breast. She begs Diana to withdraw the boon of life and
let her die. Thoas, King of Tauris, unsettled by an oracle, begs Iphigenia to
intercede with the gods on his behalf. He is convinced that only blood will
appease them and is relieved when his followers announce the capture of
two Greeks. He demands their immediate sacrifice. Orestes and Pylades are
brought in and Orestes regrets that he will be the cause of Pylades' death.
Inside the temple
Pylades tries to comfort Orestes, who is haunted by his murder of his mother
and by his responsibility for the death of his friend, who, however, is glad
that they will die together. Pylades is taken away and Orestes is tormented
by the Furies.
When Iphigenia appears before him, he believes she is the ghost of his
mother. In answer to her questions about her home, he tells her, without
revealing his identity, of the terrible events in Mycenae, diverging from the
truth only in telling her that Orestes has found the death he sought. Iphigenia
and the priestesses lament the tragedy that has struck their homeland.
Iphigenia grieves for the death of her brother, of whom the stranger reminds
her, and consents to the wish of the priestesses that she communicate with
her sister Electra, to which end she resolves to defy Thoas and save the life
of one of the prisoners, though it is out of her power to save both.
Because of the affinity she feels for him, she chooses Orestes, but he
resolutely refuses his life, partly in the hope of saving Pylades and partly
because of his guilt; but Pylades refuses to take his place. It is only when
Orestes threatens to kill himself if he is not chosen as the sacrifice that
Iphigenia yields. She gives the astonished Pylades a letter for Electra, but
refuses to answer his questions. He is still resolved to save Orestes.
Inside the temple
As the trembling Iphigenia prepares to sacrifice her brother, he assures
that death is welcome, but his mention of his sister Iphigenia reveals his
identity. When Thoas, already enraged at the escape of Pylades, demands
his death, Iphigenia defies him. Pylades kills Thoas and Diana tells Orestes to
take her images, return with Iphigenia and reign in Mycenae.
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