English National Opera (ENO) is staging the dub/punk opera Gaddafi: A Living Myth which has been composed by Steve Chandra Savale of the electronica-punk collective the Asian Dub Foundation and written by playwright Shan Khan.
The opera follows al-Qadhafi from the coup d’etat which brought him to power in 1969 through to the visit of Tony Blair, the British prime minister, in 2004, which completed his rehabilitation on the world stage.
The show’s publicity says it uses the events to highlight “a contradictory enigma and the power of myth” and themes of “power, politics and media representation”.
Khan, who admits he had very little knowledge of opera before he took on the project, visited Libya to help him write the piece.
Khan told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: “We hoped to meet al-Qadhafi, and were whisked away to different safe houses, where we had to wait for the possible encounter with him, but it never happened.”
The colonel is shown to be an egotist who changes the names of the months of the year, but Khan also highlights what he believes are the positive aspects of his leadership.
Actors take part in a dress
“He attempted to improve the lot of Libyans through free health and education and improving opportunities for women, which was interesting for a Muslim leader.”
Ramon Tikaram, who plays the Libyan leader, described his character as a “seductive and charming” figure. “He’s like a self-generating rock star and women used to throw themselves at him – all leaders these days are part of the entertainment and media industry.
“With al-Qadhafi, though, there’s always a threat of violence. The challenge is to present the colonel as a rounded character with colour and depth and his own interior world. I imagine him as a camel – slow and still and bit scary.”
Asian Dub Foundation’s score is an unconventional mix of popular dance-music forms such as hip-hop and drum and bass and soaring strings. North African musicians will play alongside the English National Opera orchestra at the performance.
Savale has described the show as an “anti-musical” and explained the description of al-Qadhafi as a “living myth”.
He said: “He was and is an immensely seductive person, who isn’t really a fundamentalist, conservative or a socialist but is taken for all those things.”
ENO hopes the opera will bring in a younger audience and Savale thinks he knows what will get people buying tickets. He said: “The story has everything – oil, terrorism, women bodyguards.”