by Steven Pisano
The composer Mark-Anthony Turnage made his mark in London almost 20 years ago with his second opera, which was based on the Sean O'Casey play about Word War I, The Silver Tassie. He came more immediately to the attention of New York opera lovers five years ago with the splashy and sensationalistic Anna Nicole, based on the colorful true story of Anna Nicole Smith.
But Turnage's first opera, Greek, based on Steven Berkoff's play of the same name (which itself was based on the Sophocles drama) has never been seen in New York. Until now. The production now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival (with one cast change) is the same Scottish Opera production that played earlier this year in Glasgow, and before that at the Edinburgh Festival, to glowing reviews.
It is always interesting to see the early work of artists who have gone on to produce larger and more mature works, and Greek is no exception. Written in 1988 during the years of Margaret Thatcher's tumultuous governance in Britain, there is a strong political undercurrent to the story, and thirty years on, none of it sounds dated in today's tedentious political climate.
Eddy (get it?) is a Cockney lad from the poorer precincts of London. He learns of a prophecy from a fortune teller that his father will be violently murdered and that he will marry his mother, so he leaves home to escape this foretold fate. But sometimes no matter how fast we run, or how far, we cannot hide.
One day, Eddy finds himself in a cafe after escaping the police who are cracking down on protesters in the street as a "plague" sweeps the country, and he finds himself in an argument with the owner, who he kills. Horrified, Eddy runs off with a waitress from the cafe, and they get married and it looks as if they will live happily ever after. That is, until one day the old couple he always thought were his parents tell him he's not really their son. When he learns the truth, he knows that the prophecy has come through.
The cast, which perform multiple roles, includes Alex Otterburn as Eddy; Susan Bullock as a waitress (not the one he marries), half of the Sphinx, and his Mum (but not his real one); Allison Cook as a waitress (the one he marries, who is his real mother), his sister, and half the Sphinx; and Andrew Shore as his Dad (but not the real one), the cafe owner (the real dad), and the Chief of Police.
The costumes by Alex Lowde are marvelous fun, from Eddy's red tracksuit to the punk rock look of the Sphinx, to the Dad's pants which look like congealed diarrhea. Joe Hill-Gibbins is the director and brings antic energy to all the action, even if the tragedy of what is really going on will melt your heart. The Orchestra of Scottish Opera plays Turnage's jazzy and modern music vividly under the direction of conductor Stuart Stratford.