Opera preview: Greek @ Traverse, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

You’re the artistic director of a theatre. You’re getting scripts thrown at you day in, day out, but you cannot for the life of you decide which one to commission. Fair enough, you think, there are worse jobs. However, you’re under pressure to have a schedule in place. It’s down to you to choose something really good that’s guaranteed to get bums on seats and be loved by your audience.

Well, how about a piece that’s been entertaining crowds for the past 1,500 years? Sounds like a safe bet. A Greek tragedy. Everyone likes the classics, right? That may be the case, but this isn’t just any old theatre you’ve been put in charge in. No, with respect to Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, you can’t get away with flogging such material at this venue.

After all, you’re working at the Traverse – an establishment that’s acquired a solid reputation for putting on cutting-edge, innovative and above all, new, drama – and that just won’t wash with your audience.

But don’t worry, you won’t have to go back to the drawing board. The original Sophocles play is pretty accessible to people in this day and age, you know. It focuses on a man struggling to avoid fulfilling a prophecy, drawing on universal themes of destiny and free will. What’s more, it’s already been transformed into a modern production that’s enjoyed great commercial and critical success. Into an opera.

Yes, you heard me correctly. A fellow called Steven Berkoff gave himself the task of revamping Oedipus the King into a piece suitable for a modern audience back in the early 1980s. Later on that decade, Mark-Anthony Turnage – a composer – thought he’d have a go at making an operatic version.

The result was an opera called Greek, which illuminated the frustrations of its angst-ridden protagonist Eddy in a decaying east end of London. Greek was described as provocative, visceral and brazen upon its release, but it was Turnage’s score – which indulges heavily on jazz – that was singled out for the truly flattering plaudits. It soon became regarded as a contemporary classic.

Wait, it gets even better. This groundbreaking production is, for this year only, in the trustworthy hands of the Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales – two world-class forces in the world of opera.

So all in all, it sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it? But hang on a second, there’s just one more thing. With Greek ticking so many boxes necessary for a great night out at the opera, just imagine the previews it’ll get. It’s definitely a winner.