In case you are wondering why there is a car with its back end jacked up in front of the opera house in this photo, rest assured that nobody is lying under the car trying to fix it. The car is in fact on display because its manufacturer is one of the main sponsors of the Nürnberg Opera. So if you must buy a car please buy this kind so they can keep on sponsoring.
What Bayreuth is for Wagner and Salzburg is for Mozart, Nürnberg would like to be for the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787). At least that was an ambition they had in the first decade of the 21st century.
Around 2005 they put up this statue of Gluck in the foyer of the Nürnberg Opera House. That year they ran what was meant to be their first triennial Gluck festival with a gala concert and five of Gluck’s operas. I attended the premiere of one of these operas, Iphigenie in Aulis, on March 5, 2005.
Gluck was born near Nürnberg, in an area called the Operpfalz, but he never lived or worked in Nürnberg. As far as anyone knows he only set foot in Nürnberg once in his whole life, when he was passing through on his way to Paris. He grew up mainly in what is now the Czech Republic, studied in Prague and Vienna, and was a hugely successful opera composer in Italy, London, Dresden, Copenhagen and Paris, among other places. He is best known as an opera reformer who brought new impulses into what was then a somewhat stagnant opera scene, and paved the way for such composers as Mozart, Berlioz and Wagner.
Gluck’s Iphigenie in Aulis (composed in 1774) is based on the play Iphigénie en Aulide by the French dramatist Jean Racine (1639-1699), who in turn was inspired by the ancient Greek dramatist Euripides. The plot has to do with the half-hearted efforts of King Agamemnon to avoid sacrificing his daughter Iphigénie to the gods in return for favorable winds to he can sail his fleet to Troy and start fighting the Trojan War.
At the end Iphigénie is saved but the wind comes up anyway, so they can all jubilantly sail off to war. This passed for a happy end at the time, but from a 21st century point of view it might have made more sense for the gods to strand the Greek fleet in the harbor indefinitely and thus prevent the war altogether. Stage director Reto Nickler gave the ending an appropriately anti-war twist in Nürnberg, but he was a bit miffed after the premiere because the wind machine didn’t work as well as it was supposed to (it worked fine in the dress rehearsal, which for superstitious theater people is not a good sign).
Gluck later (in 1779) wrote another opera about Iphigénie called Iphigénie en Tauride, in which she is a priestess who very nearly has to sacrifice her brother to the gods. This was a popular topic at the time, and two years later Gluck’s young colleague Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) composed an opera called Idomeneo, in which a king of that name is told by one of the gods to sacrifice his son Idamantes.
Whenever I see this sort of story on the opera stage I also think of an old Bob Dylan song:
Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61.”
(Lyrics from http://bobdylan.com/songs/highway-61-revisited/)
The name Gluck sometimes causes confusion in Germany (among people who don’t know their opera composers) because of its similarity to the German word Glück, with an Umlaut over the u, meaning luck or happiness. To advertise their first Gluck opera festival in 2005, the Nürnberg Opera used a slogan in English, “Feel Gluck”, which sounds (sort of) like the German expression Viel Glück, meaning ‘good luck’.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2005. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: Gluck at the Opéra Garnier in Paris.