May 4, 2006
London theater to stage “Gaddafi” … the opera
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
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."
"GADDAFI - SUPERSTAR"
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
"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
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."