Greek is an opera in two acts composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage to a libretto adapted by Turnage and Jonathan Moore from Steven Berkoff's 1980 verse play Greek. The play and the opera are a re-telling of Sophocles's Greek tragedy Oedipus the King with the setting changed to the East End of London in the 1980s. The opera was first performed on 17 June 1988 in the Carl-Orff-Saal, Munich, in a co-production by the Munich Biennale, the Edinburgh International Festival and the BBC.
Background and performance history
Turnage composed Greek between 1986 and 1988 as a commission from the City of Munich for one of five new operas to premiere at the first Münchener Biennale. The commission was suggested by the Biennale's founder, German composer Hans Werner Henze, who had taught Turnage at the Tanglewood Music Center and admired his work. Turnage adapted Berkoff's play for the libretto with the help of Jonathan Moore who would be the stage director of the premiere production. The adaptation involved shortening the play, re-ordering some of its text, and the addition of a police riot scene not in Berkoff's original.
Sian Edwards conducted the world premiere of Greek on 17 June 1988 in the Carl-Orff-Saal of the Munich Gasteig. The production was directed by Jonathan Moore with sets and costumes by David Blight, and lighting by Kevin Sleep. Greek ran for two more performances at the Biennale on 18 and 19 June, and received its UK premiere the following month at the Edinburgh Festival. This production was revived two years later for performances at English National Opera. In 1990 the BBC filmed a television version of Greek at the Liverpool Warehouse with the original world premiere cast and the Almeida Ensemble. The production, directed by Peter Maniura and Jonathan Moore and conducted by Richard Bernas, won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Best Broadcast (Radio or Television).
The first fully staged production of Greek in Australia took place at the Chamber Made Theatre in Melbourne on 13 June 1991. That same year it premiered in Italy at the Montepulciano Festival on 1 August. Further national premieres followed in the second half of the 1990s: Netherlands (Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, 3 January 1996); Austria (Odeon, Vienna, 20 October 1996); and the United States (Aspen Music Festival, 23 July 1998. Among its 21st century performances in the UK are two tours by Music Theatre Wales in autumn 2011 (which included the Buxton Festival) and autumn 2013. The first staged performance to be seen in Chicago was produced by the Chicago Opera Vanguard company in May 2009.
The opera was written for a cast of four singers, sharing eleven roles thus:
- Eddy (high baritone) – created by Quentin Hayes
- Wife, Doreen, Sphinx II, Waitress I (mezzo-soprano) – created by Fiona Kimm
- Dad, Cafe Manager, Police Chief (baritone) – created by Richard Suart
- Mum, Sphinx I, Waitress II (soprano) – created by Helen Charnock
The original productions of the play of the same name by Steven Berkoff on which the opera in based followed a similar division of roles:
- Eddy, Fortune-teller
- Dad, Manager of cafe
- Wife, Doreen, Waitress 1
- Mum, Sphinx, Waitress 2
- Ewans (2007) pp. 183–197
- Münchener Biennale Archives
- Jonathan Moore personal website
- Stearns (22 July 1998); Schott
- Johnson (3 June 2009)
- Berkoff, Steven (1989) , "Greek", Decadence and Other Plays, London: Faber and Faber, ISBN 0-571-14073-4
- Byrne, John, "Mark-Anthony Turnage's Greek at the RNCM", Musical Opinion, July 2000 (subscription access)
- Ewans, Michael, Opera from the Greek: Studies in the poetics of appropriation, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007. ISBN 0-7546-6099-0
- Fowler, John, "Controversial Festival opera faces crisis", The Glasgow Herald, 18 July 1988, p. 4
- Johnson, Lawrence A., "Greek is no classic, yet young company gives Turnage opera an energetic local premiere", Chicago Classical Review, 3 June 2009
- Münchener Biennale Archives, Greek, 1988
- Pettitt, Stephen, Mark-Anthony Turnage and 'Greek', The Musical Times, Vol. 129, No. 1746 (Aug., 1988), pp. 397–400
- Schott Music, Greek
- Service, Tom, "Turnage weekend", The Guardian, 20 January 2003
- Stearns, David Patrick,"Composer gets chance to be 'Greek' to U.S. audiences", USA Today, 22 July 1998 (subscription access)