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Plea for peace

DAVID WILKINS reports from the Athens Megaron
on the first performance on 14 April 2002
of the new opera 'Lysistrata' by Mikis Theodorakis


References galore to all the most basic bodily functions; a throbbing red phallus or fifty; lines such as, 'I am devastated by horniness' and, 'Like a bitch I'll bite your balls off.' Not presented, of course, for immoderate, iconoclastic youth in the setting of some smoky experimental theatre, but for the suited great-and-good in the sumptuous 2000-seat Hall of the Friends of Music. The Greeks, as the saying goes, have a word for it. On this occasion it's Lysistrata -- Aristophanes' great drama of anti-bellicose bawdy that hits the Athens Cultural Olympiad 2001-2004 in the celebratory raiment of Mikis Theodorakis' operatic treatment.

Having composed a set of operas based on the fundamental texts of Greek tragedy (Electra, Medea & Antigone), Theodorakis had decided to, as he says, 'quit composing.' Drawn to reconsider by a timely commission, Hellenistic pride, a vital sense of political responsibility and, one supposes, the insatiability of his creative impulse, the tetralogy is completed with this altogether sunnier offering. Not that it's in any way a cop-out from contemporary relevance. If anything, its plea for peace carries at least as much overt political engagement as the composer's recent public condemnation of Israeli repression in the occupied Palestinian territories. Theodorakis has never been one to shirk the call for libertarian statements. To encapsulate his humanitarianism in this immensely accessible ribaldry is a triumph of serious intention within comic means. Though it has its propagandist moments, it's not designed to incite a rush to the barricades. Rather, as for Aristophanes, it uses absurdity to encourage common sense. And, not irrelevantly, it contains the potential for much theatrical spectacle.

The composer's libretto sticks closely to the original drama. The major innovation is the introduction of a mediating narrator, dubbed the Poet, who, as Aristophanes, introduces or comments on the action and, at one point, becomes a simulacrum of Theodorakis in an irreverent put-down of a fellow composer. Otherwise, the story of Lysistrata's scheme to discourage war-hungry men by persuading all their womenfolk to withhold sexual favours until peace is restored survives intact.

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Copyright © 21 April 2002 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK




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