Nothing makes a bad opera like a bad libretto. Luckily Gluck knew a thing or two…

B ad libretti could destroy opera productions, even if composer and singers were understood to be superlative. This is roughly analogous  to cinema today, the only comparable  artistic genre, at least in economic terms. Poorly written or clichéd scripts can  destroy films, even if the director and the actors are well regarded. And thus it was  the case for Gluck in 1779. 

Iphigénie en Tauridewas Gluck’s first unequivocal success. The relative debates of Italian and French opera were once again being openly debated in Parisian cafés, salons and journals. Gluck had to appeal to an audience that was more critically sensitive than might have been the case in another city, such as Vienna. The new opera was immediately applauded by audiences and critics alike. A correspondent reported that the work “was in a new style”. He goes on to note that it was a “genuine tragedy, a Greek tragedy, [and one] declaimed more authentically than in the Théâtre française”. He observed that “the varied accents of passion, expressed with the greatest energy, imbue it with an interest...

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