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London to sing to Qadhafi tune
With a new production about Libya's leader, Muammar al-Qadhafi, the English National Opera is boldly going where no opera house has gone before.
Last Modified: 04 May 2006 14:43 GMT
Al-Qadhafi won the West's favours after being ostracised
With a new production about Libya's leader, Muammar al-Qadhafi, the English National Opera is boldly going where no opera house has gone before.

The production, Gaddafi, which opens in September, will feature Asian beats and rap in place of arias, and the lead role will be performed by a 39-year-old Irish-Indian nightclub MC called JC-001.

 

The Libyan leader's name can be spelt different ways - including Gaddafi and al-Qadhafi, the latter being a more accurate transliteration of the Arabic.

 

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

 

"Guns are beauty. With them you are angels of revolutionary purity"

excerpts from the opera Gaddafi

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," Savale said.

 

"But I like that. I don't see that as a negative thing. The ENO has shown great vision," he added, using the English National Opera's acronym.

 

Revolutionary nuns

 

At a workshop rehearsal in West London, JC-001, dressed in khaki fatigues and sporting dark glasses, utters totalitarian mantras such as: "Women, free yourselves from the imams" and "Guns are beauty. With them you are angels of revolutionary purity."

 

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

   

Muammar al-Qadhafi (L) is known 
for his unique sartorial  style

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

   

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

   

"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."

  

Al-Qadhafi superstar

 

Savale believes al-Qadhafi is not as strange a subject for an opera as some might think.

 

"There was a term in this book: Qadhafi 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 Qadhafi, the cult of personality ... the fact that he's quite narcissistic, very concerned about his image. All of this says to me theatre, music."

   

Freeman added that the opera, which goes into full rehearsal in June, also deals with changing attitudes towards al-Qadhafi.

 

Foe turned friend

   

"In a way it's about the myth of Qadhafi, 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 al-Qadhafi, 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.

   

"In a way it's about the myth of Qadhafi, 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"

David Freeman, 
director

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 organisation 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."

Source:
Reuters
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