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Opera’s ‘Return to Antiquity’: Adaptation, gender and the illusion of authenticity in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide

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During the early modern period in Europe, a revived interest in Greek tragedy exerted a dominating influence over the forms of new dramatic styles. Yet despite this influence, Greek tragedies, whether in Greek or in direct translation, were virtually never performed publicly. Instead, adapted versions of tragic plots made their way onto Europe’s public stages in a variety of forms. This article interrogates this phenomenon as it is manifested in the ‘return to Antiquity’ in eighteenth-century French opera, using Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide as a case study. Comparing this opera’s use of gender norms in the construction of a single character, Clytemnestra, to her gendered portrayal in both the neoclassical and classical source texts upon which Gluck drew, this article examines the ways in which adaptation may be utilized to erase evidence of cultural difference between source and target contexts, creating the illusion that the target society’s norms merely reflect an objective reality rather than a contingent and changeable cultural construct.
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Keywords: Clytemnestra; Gluck; Greek tragedy; Iphigenia in Aulis; neoclassicism; opera

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent scholar

Publication date: December 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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