You are all that the myth can’t bear: ArtsEmerson hosts Iphagenia’s world premiere

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Photo: Payton Cavanaugh

Production “Iphigenia” at the Cutler Majestic theater.

By Payton Cavanaugh

On Nov. 13, I watched “Iphigenia,” an opera that tells a new rendition of the well-known Greek Myth Iphigenia at Aulis, in the Cutler Majestic theater hosted by ArtsEmerson. The show left me with many questions pertaining to the true meaning of the myth, and the complexities of breaking the tests of fate, which I discussed in depth with friends for hours afterward. It completely captivated audience members such as myself from beginning to end and left a lasting impression. 

The tale of Iphigenia at Aulis depicts the sacrifice of woman for man. In the Greek myth, Iphigenia is sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, to conciliate the goddess Artemis. However, what if Iphigenia challenges her ultimate destiny? What if rather than women sacrificing for the greater good of man, man sacrifices their glory for their own mistakes? What if Iphigenia took hold of her fate and contested the greater myth?

In the new rendition by Wayne Shorter & esperanza spalding, the fate of Iphigenia is completely altered. Guided by the influence of Artemis, Iphigenia finds her voice and her destiny.

The play addressed many societal flaws such as the patriarchal ideals which dominate our society and empowered women to fight the social pressures and ideals meant to subjugate them. 

“What is a woman but a castoff shell, its unseen iridescence,” says one of the multiple Iphigenias. 

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The opera not only analyzed the prospect of an alliance between Artemis and Iphigenia but also explored the many internal monologues of Iphigenia. The show includes many different Iphagenias, each with an alternative perspective. Each version of the character differed not only in the content of their characters but also visually. The costumes were vastly different, but each correlated to the various versions of her.  

The show concludes in an ending far from fate’s design, in which the multiple perceptions of Iphigenia are far too strong for the myth to end in its original resolution. 

The chants of Greek men battled with Iphigenia’s inner strength. “For Greece, no sacrifice too great,” spoke the Greeks, only to be dampened by the words of the Iphigenias, “for Greece, no sacrifice.” The juxtaposition of the two lines hit me hard and showed the true inner battle Iphigenia was faced with. A battle in which she had to choose between everything society told her she had to be and changing the course of her fate in order to save herself.  

The play was a telling portrayal of a woman’s fight against the expectations of a sexist society. The talent of the cast, musicians, and crew matched the brilliant vision of the playwright. This rendition of the classic Greek myth left the audience leaping to their feet to applaud the astounding performance. 

While the acting was nothing short of incredible, the musical score was equally as astonishing. Though it was the cast’s vocals that truly strung it all together. From the booming & boisterous nature of the Greek men’s chorus to the captivating and altogether ethereal vocals of Iphigenia, the vocals left the audience with a significant impact. 

The set, though simplistic in nature, was striking and truly added another dimension to the performance. The simplicity of the set also allowed the story to take shape and gave the spotlight to the characters. 

While watching this play, I witnessed a young girl of about 10 years old in the audience as she became completely transfixed by spalding’s performance. At first, I thought it strange for such a young child to be viewing a play deeply rooted in such complex concepts. However, as I watched her light up with curiosity as spalding took the stage and become deeply invested in her fate, I realized the effect of Iphigenia was far more vast than I had originally anticipated. The way that the play was able to connect with individuals of all ages and varying perspectives was the most special part about it. 

“You are all what the myth can’t bear,” said Artemis. “Remember that and what you are.”