In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

HIGH FIVE: Get to Know Greek in 5 Minutes or Less

Oct 21, 2016 1:59:39 PM
By BLO Staff


NOVEMBER 16 – 20

Music by Mark-Anthony Turnage

Libretto by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Jonathan Moore

Adapted from the verse play Greek by Steven Berkoff

Length: Approximately 2 hours, including 1 intermission

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Conducted by Andrew Bisantz and directed by Sam Helfrich, with Scenic Design by John Conklin, Costume Design by Nancy Leary, Lighting Design by Chris Hudacs.



The setting is London’s East End, where the aimless Eddy lives with his parents. Upon learning of a fortuneteller’s prediction he will kill his father and marry his mother, Eddy storms off in search of love and adventure. He murders the owner of a café and falls in love with the owner’s wife, whom he marries.

Ten years later, Eddy’s parents visit. London is besieged by social ills which seem to be caused by a Sphinx, whom Eddy confronts and ultimately kills. But then Eddy’s parents deliver the shocking news that he is not actually their son. Horrified, Eddy realizes that the fortuneteller’s prophecy has come true—the woman he married is his birth mother. Yet unlike Oedipus, he reacts with defiance,  proclaiming that he will continue to love as he pleases.



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Attic red-figured kylix Oedipus hears the riddles of the sphinx attributed to the Painter of Oedipus about 480/470 BC.

Greek is not only a reworking of the famed Greek tragedy, but also an adaptation of a 1979 play by Steven Berkoff. By setting Sophocles’ work in contemporary London, Berkoff offered a pointed commentary on the state of Britain in the late 1970s. For his part, Turnage has stated that his political sensibilities, which paralleled Berkoff’s, informed his interest in adapting this work for the operatic stage.



Mark-Anthony Turnage incorporates varied influences into the score of Greek: you’ll hear echoes of Stravinsky alongside modern jazz, the dramatic idiom of Kurt Weill, and the sounds of 1970s rock. Veering dramatically between harshly violent sounds and moments of remarkable beauty, this multifaceted soundscape is well-suited to the intense emotional trajectory of the opera, in which Eddy’s feelings move from murderous anger to blissful love to sheer horror.



Turnage was only 28 years old and a relatively unknown composer when Greek premiered at the Munich Biennale in 1988. It was an immediate sensation due to the perennially shocking story of Oedipus, the profane language of the libretto, and the vivid originality of the music. After winning prizes for best opera and best libretto in Munich, Greek had its UK premiere one month later at the Edinburgh Festival. Its first performance in the United States was at the Aspen Music Festival in 1998. BLO’s production marks the first major U.S. production of this compelling work.



  • The orchestra for Greek contains some unconventional percussion instruments: riot shields, trash can lids, police whistles, and even brake drums! These unusual sounds enliven the opera’s gritty aesthetic.
  • Four singers perform all 11 roles in Greek, switching rapidly from character to character (only the singer playing Eddy has just one role). This tactic creates a sense of theatricality and instability around Eddy, who spends most of the opera unaware that he has been doomed by his grim fate.


This article was originally published in the fall 2016 issue of Boston Lyric Opera’s Coda magazine.

Topics: BLO, #BLO40, HIGH FIVE, #GreekBLO

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