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Gaddafi: Failure or Triumph?

Uncle Muammar

Other Reviews:

Michael Church, Not exactly opera, but it makes the perfect PC musical (The Independent, September 8)

Warwick Thompson, 'Gaddafi' Premieres at ENO, Raises Questions of Taste, Sanity (Bloomberg News, September 8)

Tom Service, Gaddafi: A Living Myth (The Guardian, September 8)

Peter Aspden, Clumsy rhyme ruins for me, a daft tale of Tripoli (Financial Times, September 9)

Anthony Holden, Ad Libya? No, it's all in the script (The Observer, September 10)

Matt Wolf, Nixon revisited in a London lineup alive with history (International Herald Tribune, September 15)

Peter Conrad, Loud, lewd and nasty (The New Statesman, September 18)
I had been reading about one of the "operas" in my fall Opera Preview for a while, Gaddafi, which had its premiere at English National Opera on September 6 to considerable critical befuddlement. Charlotte Higgins put it this way (Gaddafi: a living miss, September 12) in The Guardian:
On Friday night, English National Opera launched its new season with a bold experiment: a new work that is a collaboration between the company and the hip-hop artists Asian Dub Foundation. Gaddafi: A Living Myth created an extraordinary buzz of anticipation before its opening night, more media interest than the company can ever remember for a production. Its first night was an "event": le bon ton came out in force, from celebrity architects to publishing moguls.

And the result? A naive, dumbfoundingly literal march through 20th- and 21st-century Libyan history. A piece that was extraordinarily untheatrical, about whose characters one cared nothing, whose pacing was stultifyingly unvarying and whose music struggled to sustain its two-hour length. It was saved from looking a complete turkey by some very good performances (notably Ramon Tikaram in the lead) and the virtuosity of ENO's technical team. The obvious parallel to Gaddafi - a work of music theatre on the life of a famous world leader - is John Adams's masterpiece Nixon in China, given a wonderful revival recently by ENO. In terms of sophistication, wit, imagination and emotional depth, there is, alas, no comparison.
I put the word opera in scarequotes above because the director of ENO has admitted in print that the very word "opera" might put off the young, hip audiences the company is trying to attract. It sounds like that was the correct instinct, since the piece barely qualifies for the honor. The work was uniformly vilified in the British press (see the review capsule at right), quotes from which have been circulating in English-language news services in Europe, North America, and Australia. Perhaps not surpisingly, however, the piece has been described as a "dazzling modern opera" in an article (London opera on Qadhafi hits right note, September 14) by Ana Maria Echeverria of Agence France-Presse, which has been reprinted by the Middle East Times in Egypt:
It has everything to keep spectators on the edge of their seats: images of the desert covered in oil and blood, documentary footage on war and revolution, bombs, missiles, rap music, and beautiful female bodyguards in red high heels. More of an audiovisual spectacular than an opera, Gaddafi: A Living Myth, follows step by step the enigmatic Qadhafi and his times to the hip hop beat of the British group, Asian Dub Foundation.

Though no Qadhafi admirer, The Times newspaper said that the musical at the London Coliseum theater will be the next Evita, the hit musical that was based on the life of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron. With a spectacular array of musicians, actors, and ballerinas, it recounts the coup that brought Qadhafi to power in 1969, the deadly 1986 US airstrike on Tripoli, the Libyan bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's reconciliation with Qadhafi in 2004.
The article has also appeared in the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates), and even Aljazeera covered the work's premiere glowingly. De gustibus non est disputandum.

1 comment:

ZS said...

where, o where, is the opera that I have dreamed of seeing...
"Amin Amen: The Story of Idi Amin in Song."