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Saturday 25 Mar 2017
3:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Queensland Multicultural Centre

Professor Michael Ewans

Wagner recognized the greatness of Gluck, and in his prose writings he praises him as a predecessor equal in stature to Mozart; but he was reluctant to admit the importance of Gluck’s late, Greek-based ‘reform operas’, since he was concerned to present himself as the great reformer who replaced opera by music drama.

However, not long before writing the three important prose treatises of 1848-50 – in fact just before he had to leave Dresden – Wagner had paid Gluck the unique tribute of writing a complete new adaptation into German of his opera Iphigénie en Aulide. This version includes cuts and alterations, a re-orchestration of the music, a very large number of new stage directions and above all a new ending. Wagner conducted his arrangement in 1847 to great acclaim, and it was performed in Germany and Austria well into the twentieth century.

This paper first critiques the position on Gluck which Wagner took in his theoretical writings, and then examines the adaptation of Iphigénie quite closely. Coming as it does between Wagner’s last grand opera, Lohengrin, and the first of the ‘stage festival plays’ of the Ring, Wagner’s reworking of Gluck sheds light on a pivotal stage in his own development towards becoming a music dramatist, rather than a composer of conventional operas. There are also some very interesting affinities in subject matter between Iphigénie and Wagner’s own work.

*Michael Ewans retired from the Chair of Drama at the University of Newcastle, Australia in 2011; he is now is Conjoint Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2005. His eleven books include Janáček’s Tragic Operas, Wagner and Aeschylus: the ‘Ring’ and the ‘Oresteia’, and Opera from the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of Appropriation. He published in 2016 a new book analyzing stage performances of scenes from 24 operas on DVD; Performing Opera: a Practical Guide for Singers and Directors (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama). He has recently published an article on Pierre Audi’s double bill of Gluck’s two Iphigénie operas, and an article analyzing Thomas Adès’ opera The Tempest.