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London theater to stage gaddafi opera { May 4 2006 }

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London theater to stage "Gaddafi" ... the opera
Thu May 4, 2006 3:14 AM ET

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - With a new production about Libya's colorful leader Muammar Gaddafi, the English National Opera boldly goes where no opera house has gone before.

"Gaddafi", which opens in September, will feature Asian beats and rap in place of arias and romance, and the title role will be performed by a 39-year-old Irish-Indian nightclub MC called JC-100.

The opera tackles some of Libya's most controversial moments on the world stage, including U.S. attacks on the country in 1986, the Lockerbie disaster of 1988 and the shooting of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside Libya's London embassy in 1984.

Little wonder its creators see the project as high risk for one of Britain's two main opera houses.

"It's absolutely unprecedented," said Steve Chandra Savale of the Asian Dub Foundation, who composed the music.

"It's totally unexpected. Some might say it's insane," he told Reuters. "But I like that. I don't see that as a negative thing. The ENO has shown great vision."

At a workshop rehearsal in West London, JC-100, dressed in khaki fatigues and sporting dark glasses, utters totalitarian mantras like: "Women, free yourselves from the imams" and "Guns are beauty. With them you are angels of revolutionary purity."

Two "revolutionary nuns", modeled on Gaddafi's infamous female bodyguards, tout replica rifles as they sing: "God keep our leader safe" and "For him we give up our mind and beauty."

Savale and director David Freeman insist the opera is not a spoof of a leader often portrayed in the West as a loose cannon and dictator, but who has won his way back into U.S. and British affections in recent years.

"The piece certainly doesn't present him in a purely positive light," Freeman explained.

"That would be, I think, ridiculous. But at the same time he has done many positive things within Libya as well as some negative ones. I think it's a provocation, and I think that's one of the things that art should do."


Savale believes Gaddafi is not as strange a subject for an opera as some might think.

"There was a term in this book: 'Gaddafi Superstar'. I thought, 'wouldn't that be great, wouldn't that be the complete opposite of something like Andrew Lloyd Webber?'

"The more I looked into it the more I thought it would work; the sheer adulation of Gaddafi, the cult of personality ... the fact that he's quite narcissistic, very concerned about his image. All of this says to me theater, music."

Freeman added that the opera, which goes into full rehearsal in June, also deals with changing attitudes toward Gaddafi.

"In a way it's about the myth of Gaddafi, who was after all public enemy number one in the 1980s and is now our dear friend because he is the enemy of fundamentalists, I suppose."

The opera traces the life of Gaddafi, who was born in 1942, from his toppling of the king in 1969 to the present day, during which time, Freeman says, he has constantly reinvented himself but managed to rule his oil-rich state virtually unchallenged.

While the ENO is braced for a backlash from opera buffs who are likely to question the staging of such a work in a major opera house, Savale argues that the venue is perfect.

"It turned out that an organization that I would least have expected to take interest took interest.

"It makes sense that space for real creativity and challenge will open up in unexpected places. I always want to be surprised by things, I want to see things I haven't seen before. Wherever that comes from I welcome it."

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