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Gluck's Successful Sequel: 'Iphigenie en Tauride'

Sequels have been popping up in all kinds of dramatic entertainment for a long time now, going all the way back to the days of classic, Greek drama, and continuing in today's movie houses, and they can make for great ticket sales.

The built-in following sequels are assumed to have, and the box office potential that goes with it, are big reasons for the many sequels we find at the cinema -- together with the fact that a sequel doesn't require a brand new idea to get started. And that lack of fresh ideas may be why many, if not most, dramatic sequels simply fail to live up to their predecessors.

Then again, there are some noteworthy success stories. George Lukas's The Empire Strikes Back was surely a worthy follow up to Star Wars, and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II is considered by many to have surpassed the original.

Surprisingly though, with a history of sequels stretching from ancient Athens to modern Hollywood, there are almost no sequels to be found at the opera. (OK, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro does follow up on the story of Rossini's The Barber of Seville -- but Figaro was written first, so that doesn't count.)

Still, opera does give us at least one, truly great sequel. In the early 1770s, Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote an opera called Iphigenie en Aulide. It's based on the classic, Greek story of Iphigenia, whose father was ordered to offer her up as a human sacrifice, to appease the gods. And in the original story, Agamemnon does sacrifice Iphigenia and that, as they say, was all she wrote.

But when Gluck wrote his version of the tale, operas with tragic endings were frowned upon. So, at the end of the opera, the gods have second thoughts, and Iphigenia is spared. And that turned out well for Gluck. The opera was a sensation, and its ending allowed his heroine to live on, in a sequel. Today, it might be called, The Continuing, Excellent Adventures of Iphigenia. In 1778, Gluck called it Iphigenie en Tauride.

On World of Opera, Lisa Simeone brings us a production of Gluck's second opera about Iphigenia, from La Monnaie in Brussels -- that theater's own sequel to its production of the composer's first Iphigenia opera. This time, soprano Nadja Michael stars in the title role, with baritone Stephane Degout as Iphigenia's brother, Orestes, in a performance led by Christophe Rousset.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or thefull archive.

Copyright 2010 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.