They’re cheering Greek in Edinburgh. Now, why’s that?

They’re cheering Greek in Edinburgh. Now, why’s that?


norman lebrecht

August 07, 2017

There’s a huge buzz about the Edinburgh Festival’s production of Mark Anthony Turnage’s opera, Greek, with critics lavishing five stars on the show and one of them saying it has raised Edinburgh to long-lost glories.

What they fail to mention is that the team behind the production are John Berry and Loretta Tomasi, whom the same critics kicked to death when they were running English National Opera.

Funny old world.


  • Gill says:

    No surprises there. That’s a winning team and let’s not forget the number of awards presented to ENO during their stewardship.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Times review cheered the production and the work:

    …. but also mentioned a poor audience attendance, even in the context of the Festival.

    Why would that be? Would it not have something to do with the postwar consensus among producers and composers that a new opera has to be shocking, the subject matter strongly related to the outside world (‘the concerns of contemporary society’, or politics), the music as intrusive and ugly as possible – as to enhance the expression of low life on stage – and the overall aesthetics as much as possible the opposite of the bourgeois taste of the average opera lover who has to be waken-up from his/her comatose slumber and reminded of the ills of the world, instead of having his/her contemporary nerves be massages by the easy-listening operas of yore, where entirely silly subjects are treated in a harmless fashion and underlined with nice tunes, like the innocent nagging in Poppea, the fun in Figaro, the tourist attracttions of Carmen, the sleepy stuff in Tristan and the fun in Salome and Elektra, not to forget the consoling glitter of Rosenkavalier and the ‘nothing-special-happes-here’ of the aural bubblegum of Pelléas. All bad, tasteless works! So: the audience has to be treated on some real stuff.

    No doubt this production of the Turnage piece, which is in itself brilliant, will have received its worthwhile treatment by the team. However, the idea that opera audiences have to be provoked and that their disapproval, either shown by booing or by abstinence, is a sign of artistic success, is a postwar sixties misunderstanding, at a time when there was enough money around to compensate for disappointing ticket sales: protest as a form of liberating luxury. Meanwhile the world has changed dramatically in all respects and what was modern, shocking, cutting edge, etc. etc. has now become tradition and followed everywhere: the tradition of anti-traditionalism. It seems clear to me that audiences know by now that they are conservative, not understanding, bourgeois, dull, lacking intelligence and appreciation for new, daring productions, but assuming that they will buy tickets to see and to hear some slice of life while such things are already trumpeted loudly through all media channels of today, seems to underestimate the audiences’ sense of self-preservation. One could also consider opera, or classical music in general, as an art form where audiences can be injected with some inspiration, to feel what it is to be human, to stimulate their best aspirations, with which they will be able to face again the Turnage atmosphere of the modern world outside the theatre. Should art merely reflect the world? Or offer an alternative for it? And what if this world is dehumanizing and depressing? Take your pick.

    • CJ says:

      + 1000000
      It seems to me that what the public asks for is to be able to dream, to escape from its sometimes drab world, not to be “educated”.

    • Gordon Freeman says:

      Well put sir.

      Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

      Unfortunately the disturbed don’t have have much money and the comfortable are morons.

    • Halldor says:

      But the point is that Greek is *not* about the contemporary world: it’s a retelling of an ancient Greek myth in contemporary terms (exactly as Strauss and Hofmannsthal retold Elektra in the verbal language of Freud and the musical language of fin-de-siècle Germany). And 30 years on, the musical shock value of its score (itself a direct, and valid response to the violence of the same 3000-year old story that also inspired Sophocles, Euripides, Dryden, Enescu, Stravinsky and many other artists) is now far less noticeable than its lyricism, its emotional content, and – yes – its beauty.

      I saw it on Saturday night and the production and performances were indeed superb. There was not a single boo and it was noticeable that the loudest cheers of all were for the librettist and the composer.

      • John Borstlap says:

        There is a difference between the contemporary treament of antique subject matter by Strauss and the contemporary treatment of similar matter by Turnage, since in the period between Elektra and Greek, the artistic level of serious music has sunk to a record low. There were good reasons why Strauss did not further pursue his dissonant expressionism: he did not want to loose the means that enabled him to write Rosenkavalier. If Elektra was only a work with ‘shockers’ it would not have survived, but it had enough musical qualities to be revived again and again.

        • John Borstlap says:


          In my view, everything Turnage writes is sixties kitsch, flirting with low life in the appropriate colours, without transcending it.