New take on an old tale

Oedipus.
Oedipus.

BUXTON Festival is to host two performances of Music Theatre Wales’ latest production – Greek, a vivid, angry re-working of the Oedipus myth by firebrand composer Mark-Anthony Turnage.

His brilliant and provocative opera exploded onto the stage in 1988 and conferred instant celebrity on its composer – then still in his 20s. Greek has since become a contemporary classic – and Turnage has continued to hit the headlines – notably with his recent sensational Royal Opera House hit Anna Nicole.

The gifted young baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who was educated at Chetham’s School and Manchester University, sings the role of Eddy, the opera’s foul-mouthed, restless protagonist. Mr Farnsworth, who won the prestigious Wigmore Hall International Song Competition in 2009, will also give a recital on July 21 at the Buxton Festival.

Greek is based on the play by Steven Berkoff and the opera was widely seen at the time of its premiere as a parable of the Thatcher years. The opera catapults us into a seedy, boozy East End world. Swinging from demotic energy to soulful intensity, Turnage’s jazz-influenced score vividly depicts the larger than life characters and conveys deeply felt human tragedy.

The production, directed by Michael McCarthy, is part of a wide-ranging national tour by Music Theatre Wales. The company, one of Europe’s leading chamber music ensembles, has been a frequent visitor to the Buxton Festival.

Michael Rafferty conducts the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble and the cast also includes soprano Sally Silver in the role of Mum, mezzo Louise Winter as Wife and baritone Gwion Thomas in the role of Dad. In keeping with the production’s mood of rough physicality, they also play a variety of other roles. The opera is designed by Simon Banham, with lighting by Ace McCarron.

MTW’s production of Greek is a co-production with Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon. Awards from the National Lottery Fund will support its touring dates in both Wales and England.

The opera is set in the 1980s in the East End of London. The plagues that beset the city are unemployment, racism and police violence. Greek’s seedy, boozy protagonist Eddy is stuck in a rut and longs for more. When his Dad tells him that a fortune teller once predicted that he would kill his father and marry his mother, Eddy decides he’s had enough and leaves home to find love in the unlikely form of the wife of a man he kicks to death. Little does he know that ten years later he will discover his true identity, with tragic consequences.

Swinging from demotic energy to soulful intensity, Turnage’s jazz-influenced score vividly conveys the overt theatricality of the larger-than-life characters, throwing this human tragedy into sharp relief. The stylised spoken dialogue, with its exaggerated intonation of “cockney defiance,” becomes another aspect of the music. It moves from the rhythmic cacophony of the football chant through snatches of jazz and rock to passages of real lyricism.

Mark-Anthony Turnage is one of Britain’s most successful living composers, Mark-Anthony Turnage has achieved international stature and is commissioned and performed throughout the world. Renowned for his intense love and knowledge of jazz, he works highly successfully with many great jazz performers, effortlessly blending the languages of classical and jazz.

His music is colourful, rhythmic, often lyrical and always distinctive, with an innate dramatic sense. Powerful in its contrasts, his music and texts hold up a mirror to the realities of modern life and make a broad appeal to an enquiring contemporary audience. He is composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Music Theatre Wales, based in Cardiff, is a pioneering force in contemporary opera in Britain, with an established international reputation. Led by Joint Artistic Directors Michael McCarthy and Michael Rafferty, its innovative productions have included works by Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Nigel Osborne, Michael Tippett, Philippe Boesmans, Philip Glass and Lynne Plowman. Music Theatre Wales is an Associate Company of The Royal Opera House’s ROH2 strand and tours widely in Wales, the UK and Europe.

Performances will be on Thursday, July 14, starting at 7.15pm and Monday, July 25, at 7.15pm. The Box Office on 0845 12 72190 or www.buxtonfestival.co.uk. Tickets cost from £10 to £47.