Julian Anderson's new opera 'Thebans'
impresses RODERIC DUNNETT
Any world premiere at English National Opera — Mark-Anthony Turnage's The Silver Tassie, David Sawer's From Morning to Midnight, Jonathan Harvey's Inquest of Love, Judith Weir's Blond Eckbert, back to Stephen Oliver's Timon of Athens, Robin Holloway's Clarissa and David Blake's The Plumber's Gift — is a major and comparatively rare event, but there have been few more significant recently than Julian Anderson's new opera Thebans [seen 8 May 2014].
This is an invigorating fresh treatment, traditional but incisive, of the three Sophocles Theban plays: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. Their writing spans four decades: the last (441 BC) belongs to an earlier, more severe era, just fifteen years after the death of Aeschylus; the most famous Oedipus drama to the early 420s; the least familiar, about the aftermath near Athens, was staged posthumously in 401.
Anderson and his superlative librettist, Frank McGuinness, have arranged the plays — never conceived as a trilogy by Sophocles — in a fresh order, past-future-present, retailing the Oedipus/plague/blinding story first by way of a fifty minute long main course, then the Creon-Antigone confrontation (artfully abridged to just twenty minutes), and the sequel depicting Oedipus in exile as a thirty minute envoi (in the play we learn that Oedipus disappears having told Theseus, Athens' king, that provided he keeps his final resting place secret, Athens shall be free from future harm.)
Copyright © 22 May 2014