Thebans – reviews of ‘dazzling’ new Sophocles opera

May 7, 2014

Julian Anderson and Frank McGuinness turn Sophocles’s tragic trilogy into an opera triumph, say critics

What you need to know
The English National Opera’s new production based on Sophocles’s tragedies, Thebans, has opened at the Coliseum London. British composer Julian Anderson created the opera with librettist and renowned playwright Frank McGuinness.

Thebans combines Sophocles’s trilogy of ancient Greek tragedies Oedipus Rex, Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus into a single work in three acts. The human failings of Oedipus and his daughter Antigone make them tragically vulnerable to a cycle of revenge and suffering at the hands of the Gods. Runs until June 3.

What the critics like 
Anderson and McGuinness’s “dazzling new opera” blows apart our reverence towards these iconic plays, says Guy Dammann in The Guardian. They have brilliantly compressed Sophocles's trilogy into a compelling and dramatic narrative that feels fresh and thrilling. 
“A triumph of sustained intensity”, Thebans is an opera like no other, says Michael White in the New York Times. Anderson is a maverick or a genius, but either way, his Thebans is distinctively impressive.
In many ways Anderson’s Thebans is “a model for what new opera should be”, says Neil Fisher in The Times. The action is compressed, the libretto is perspex-clear and there are lashings of murder, incest and suicide.
What they don’t like
It’s not just compressed, it’s squeezed “till the pips squeak” and it loses the human element, says Richard Fairman in the Financial Times. It is hard to empathise with any of the characters when they are given so little space to tell us what they think or feel.      

Sign up for our daily newsletter