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Sappho: An Opera for One
Music by Granville Bantock (1906)

Premiere: Sept.8, 2008,
Skala Eressos, Lesobos

Commissioned by
Sappho's Garden of the Arts

Corporate Sponsoring by Skytravel24

Elizabeth Neiman, Mezzosoprano
Sina Hermann, Flute
Valerie Weber, Harp

Christine Voss, Inzenierung

In an age of poetic giants, she was invoked by her contemporaries as „the tenth Muse“. Centuries after her death, her portrait adorns coins, pottery, the walls of private houses. Her works survive in scraps, quotations from authors as late as Plutarch and Cattullus attest to her renown and literary influence.
The uncovering of a major collection of fragments - „recycled“ as wrapping for a mummy – took the nineteenth century by storm. Already flamed with „Antique Fever“ (recall the search for Troy, the excitement over Pergamon, the discovery of Pompeii ), the European cultural world was fascinated by Sappho's poetry. Composers – most prominently Brahms and Liszt - quickly took up the „Sapphic Ode“, at that time her only known complete poem.

The Sappho Opera
Of the many romantic and expressionist settings, only one delved into the treasury of Sappho's fragments: the beautiful song cycle written in 1906 by Englishman Granville Bantock. His wife Helena, a woman of letters, wove the fragments into carefully crafted lyrics. The musical settings underline the rich sensuality of the poetry: soaring lines carry Sappho's hymn of love, delicate figures and graceful trills gather impressions of the fragrant evening, staggering polyrhythms shake with the winds of Sappho's desire...
The music is so dramatic that it begs to be staged as a one-woman opera, in the tradition of Händels“ Rape of Lucrezia“ or Schoenberg's „Erwartung“. Originally composed for piano and later orchestrated, the songs had sunk into oblivion – perhaps in part because the massive orchestra overwhelms the intimacy of the poetry.
We have chosen to adapt the piano score for harp and flute. Both instruments are associated with ancient Greece - the harp as the symbol of Sappho herself - and both are featured prominently in the orchestrated version. Seven songs trace Sappho's call to Aphrodite, her hopes of love through the depths of her despair as she sees that time is passing and she will remain alone. She overcomes her muderous lust – again, with the help of the goddess - and finally, in the closing „Bridal Song“, she is able to wish her younger friend well and send her off into marriage.

The Sappho Trio on Lesbos

In staging the work, we use elements from Sappho 's native Lesbos: the ash-gray and faded red of volcanic sands, the thorny brush and thistles that dot the landscape, rocks polished smooth by the ocean. To enable performance in a variety of settings and also to allow the music to „set“ the scene, complex technical effects with lighting or that require stage machinery have been purposefully rejected. The instrumentalists are on stage and become part of the action. Readings from women authors, from Sappho herself through Virginia Woolf and Ingeborg Bachmann, serve as commentary and counterpoint to the songs. In this way an intimate, thought-provoking atmosphere is created which invites the audience to absorb with ears, eyes, head and heart.

Links andere Künstler: Sina Hermann, Valerie Weber, Christine Voss