The story of the curse on the family of Tantalus and its tales of vengeance, hatred, sacrifice, deadly entanglements and murder has lost none of its macabre fascination over the centuries. Countless dramatists, authors and composers have chosen to work with the ancient, bleak family drama of the military commander Agamemnon, his wife Clytemnestra and their children Iphigenia, Orestes and Electra. The French libretto written by Nicolas-François Guillard for Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Iphigénie en Tauride and based on Euripides contains potential for feelings and conflict intended to produce emotional turmoil.

Iphigenia has been saved from being sacrificed by her father. She now lives on the island of the Taurians and has the task of killing any foreigner that comes to the island seeking refuge. Her dreams are plagued by memories of the bloody destruction of her family. She does not know that her brother Orestes was able to escape the massacre. Years later she sees him and his friend Pylades who have been taken prisoner by the Taurians. But brother and sister fail to recognise each other. However, the unknown prisoner reminds Iphigenia of Orestes, so she decides to save him. Orestes, though, prefers to face death instead of Pylades. During the sacrifice, brother and sister recognise each other. Just as Thoas, the king of the Scythians, is about to kill Orestes, Pylades suddenly appears and murders the king. The people sing in praise of the coming peace and the end of the wars on Tauris.

The premiere of Iphigénie en Tauride in Paris in 1779 gave Gluck the greatest success of his life. It was in this work that the ambitious composer succeeded in executing his ideas for reform in every respect and in giving musical theatre greater authenticity again. His approach to the ancient myth is an appeal for the values of humanity; at the same time, Gluck paved the way for modern musical drama with the work.