Thebans is based on the three Theban plays by Sophocles – Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone, which chronicle the cursed life of the mythical monarch Oedipus and his daughter Antigone. The three plays are reworked as three acts, and retold in non-chronological order, focusing on the death of Antigone before that of her father Oedipus, in order to exploit the full dramatic potential of this complex familial and political story. It is got a cathartic, an emotional cleansing, element, like all Greek tragedies, and a warning to the current mantra of finding yourself. Oedipus did it and did not like the findings. Having killed his own father and sleeping with his mother was not a pleasant surprise.
As Julian Anderson, the composer, says:
“For me the material is rich and exciting, because it covers such a wide range and I tried to reflect that in the music and in the music’s ambiguity not just your poster version of the drama, because everybody knows the story. But I have enriched, contradicted and dialogued with it and give the characters depth and strangeness.”
Thebans. Courtesy ENO and, the photographer, Tristram Kenton.
Thebans, the first opera by Julian Anderson, one of the best British composers, with a libretto by Frank McGuinness, will receive its world premiere by English National Opera. This is the first of a series of new British operas to be premiered by ENO over the next two years, which will champion British talent to a global audience. This epic production is led by a world-class creative team, including director Pierre Audi, Irish playwright and poet Frank McGuinness and ENO Music Director Edward Gardner. An unbeatable start.
Founder of the Almeida Theatre and current Artistic Director of Dutch National Opera and the Holland Festival, Pierre Audi makes his directorial debut at ENO. Pierre is well-known as a visionary director, a heavyweight of European theatre, having commissioned many new works for Dutch National Opera.
An impossible task to pick the best performances with such a superb cast of singers. Susan Bickley, as Jocasta, the mother/wife of Oedipus, raised to the challenge. One of the most accomplished mezzo sopranos of her generation. Her exit lyrical aria was unnerving and rather haunting. It resonated through the whole evening. Matthew Best, as Tiresias, a blind prophet, beautifully juggled between fragility and power. The power of the known. Anthony Gregory, as the stranger from Corinth, a promising rising young tenor, performed close to perfection. Finally, Roland Wood, as Oedipus the King, did eventually warm up to such a complex character and excited the audience at the third, and final, act. But perhaps most powerful of all is the chorus, like in many Greek plays, they are the mob, they are the audience, the public and, sometimes, the insolent conscience. Anderson gave them the power without stealing the limelight from such compelling characters.
Thebans. Anthony Gregory. Courtesy ENO and, the photographer, Tristram Kenton.
Special mention also deserve: the set designed by Tom Pye, atmospheric with a minimal use of materials. Greatly complemented by video designer Lysander Ashton, costume designer Christof Hetzer and lightning designer Jean Kalman. The orchestra directed by Edward Gardner exceeds any expectations however high.
Every single element of this opera has been played to perfection and with exquisite sensitivity. It has become an instant classic.
Thebans opens at the London Coliseum on 3 May 2014 for 7 performances – 3, 8, 10, 23 May and 3 June 7.30pm and 17, 31 May, 6.30pm
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