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This production of Iphigénie en Tauride takes place in an enclosed space, a room with a wooden floor and dark wine-colored wallpaper. For Acts I and II there is a small picture up on the wall, of a sunset at sea. In Acts III and IV, the rear of the room is replaced by a section of the floor that curves up like a skateboard ramp but a little steeper. In the final scene, when Artemis has stopped the carnage and restored order, the rear section is replaced with a view of the sea – that same picture that was on the wall, but much larger.
In the center of this room at the beginning of the opera is an old-fashioned iron-framed bed with white covers. There are a lot of references to sleeping and dreaming in this opera – Iphigenia describes bad dreams at the beginning of Act I, as does Thoas. Later, Orestes’s “Le calme rentre dans mon coeur” (my heart is calm) is followed by sleep, and a dream; Iphigenia later falls asleep again too, and in Act IV, as everyone is preparing to sacrifice Orestes, the chorus of priestesses lie down in rows as if sleeping. There is a lot of emphasis put on the slippage between dreams and waking.
Indeed, emphasizing that slippage is one of the roles of the rather frightening doubles of Iphigenia and Orestes’s family (Iphigenia and Orestes themselves as well as their parents Agamemnon and Klytemnestra) that follow them around. You can see Orestes’s one in the clip above. These are not just doubles; they are people wearing enormous sinister-looking wooden heads (they look like wood, at least; can’t imagine they really are) who act out all the things that haunt Iphigenia and Orestes. They are there in dreams, and they are also there in waking moments too – occasionally the characters “really” catch sight of them and react. Via a pantomime at the very beginning of the opera, these figures fill us in on the back story – Agamemnon stabs Iphigenia, who is sitting on the bed, and her mask splits open to reveal the “real” Iphigenia, and the story can begin. Later, the mask version of Orestes stalks him and menaces Pylades as Orestes agonizes over both his past and his present situation. During Orestes’s dream in Act II, the doll family sits at a table and re-enacts the series of violent acts that led to Iphigenia and Orestes’s current situation. Iphigenia’s double doesn’t haunt her in the same way that Orestes’s one does him, but she’s costumed in white, with a great big red stab wound just under her left shoulder (the priestesses’ costumes match this). She does not feel guilty the way her brother does, but being sacrificed by your dad, or nearly so, is clearly one of those experiences that tends to stick with a person.
Between the red wallpaper and the white iron bed and the bobble-headed nightmare dolls and the horrific dreams and Iphigenia’s white dress with its massive blood stain on the shoulder, the impression I got from this was of a sort of vaguely Victorian claustrophobic do-not-even-think-about-the-subtext family drama. And at the every end, when Artemis/Diana is supposed to show up and fix everything, we do not see the goddess herself. The singer, Martina Janková, is offstage. Rather, what we do see is a little girl in a white dress like Iphigenia’s, who walks over to Orestes and touches his hand; she then goes to Iphigenia and touches her cheek, which seems to “wake” Iphigenia up – she looks as if she’s just snapped out of something. Both of them seem relieved by the little girl’s touch. Perhaps the return of little Iphigenia indicates that the two siblings can leave behind the memories of the bload-soaked mess they’ve been reliving over and over – they can, as the replacement of the picture with the ‘real’ vista suggests, finally leave that room?