Sunday, October 15, 2006

Odysseus Unwound!

No, that is not a typo. No, this post is not on the Ithaca search (sorry! But there's nothing new so far as I can tell! If anybody would like to tell me otherwise, pleae do!).

So anyway, since I've taken up knitting myself (albeit at a snail's pace, considering I'm here to do research, not knit), this rather amuses me: Odysseus Unwound.

Unfortunately, it got a less than favourable review. As posted to Classics-L:

Greek Myth, Scottish Knitting Are Entwined in Quirky New Opera

By Warwick Thompson

Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- I had never guessed that Greek myth and
Scottish knitting had anything in common. That was until I saw Julian
Grant's new ``Odysseus Unwound.'' Now, I know it for sure.

Staged in an abandoned theater in north London by the quirky company
Tete-a-Tete, the opera presents several scenes in the life of Homer's
great hero Odysseus, sung by Daniel Broad. We see him brutally
taunting the captive Trojan queen Hecuba, defeating the monster
Polyphemus with a trick, and returning home to find his wife Penelope
at her knitting, surrounded by suitors.

Along with the singers, the cast also involves five motherly Scottish
knitters who sit clicking away at the side of the stage and who
occasionally act as extras.

Their involvement came about after the director Bill Bankes- Jones
made a chance visit to the Shetland Isles, and found plenty of
parallels with the opera's subject matter. Like Penelope, the
Shetlanders are famous for their spinning, weaving and knitting, and
like Odysseus they know a thing or two about hopping between islands
on small boats.

It was hoped that their experiences might resonate with the story
during the opera's gestation. Since Hattie Naylor's libretto avoids
any references to the Greek gods, it was also thought that the
knitters might fill a gap by representing the Fates who spin and ravel
the threads of Odysseus's life.

A cute idea, though ultimately not a fruitful one. A piece that avoids
divine references might have been better served on its own terms,
rather than padded with mystical symbolism.

Uneasy Energy

The matronly knitters, though charming in what they do, are also not
natural stage creatures. When required to be extras -- to coil up
ropes, move chairs, or to pretend to be sailors -- their awkwardness
creates an uneasy energy that is often distracting.

Naylor's ramshackle libretto only adds to the difficulties. She
doesn't solve the problems of presenting a picaresque story, and the
result is a series of rather random episodes that lacks structure and
direction. She also commits the cardinal operatic sin of creating a
second half that is almost double the length of the first. It almost
grinds to a halt.

There's still some fun to be had. Julian Grant's music is attractive,
and his mix of Stravinskian orchestral colors with mellifluous
attic-style modal melodies works beautifully. Bankes- Jones's
inventive, simple production uses just a few chairs and pieces of rope
to create the various locations.

The singing is very good, with Louise Mott (Penelope) and Sadhbh
Dennedy (Nausicaa) outstanding in their roles. Tim Murray conducts the
CHROMA ensemble with a lively sense of pace and rhythm.

All this, and you get to see the crumbling, atmospheric gem that is
the 1870s Alexandra Palace Theatre. If Tete-a-Tete could make some
cuts and rethink the knitters, it might be a piece worth revisiting.

``Odysseus Unwound'' is in repertoire until Oct. 16 and then on tour.
Tel. (44) (1473) 320407 or go to

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions
expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson at WarwickTho [at] aol [dot] com .
Last Updated: October 13, 2006 01:15 EDT


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