Little could Staatsoper Hannover have suspected quite how topical its premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek would turn out to be, taking place on the same weekend that Germany closed its borders to the “British plague”. In the opera, adapted in the mid-1980s from Steven Berkoff’s retelling of the Oedipus myth in the contemporary East End of London, that plague is specifically Thatcherism, but the archetypal nature of the story lends itself just as readily to being a virus or a nation’s psyche. As director Joe Hill-Gibbins puts it in a programme interview (my translation from the German): “The ‘plague’ of the British psyche, and probably the entire Western world, remains nationalism, populism, xenophobia and resentment towards immigration.” Moreover, the idea of someone with personality issues, a narcissist even, actively being the cause of said plague... Any suggestions back in its early days that the opera’s premise or setting would become dated have been roundly quashed, as several revivals in recent years have shown.

Angeles Blancas (Mum), Michael Kupfer-Radecky (Dad)
© Sandra Then

For Hannover, Hill-Gibbins has revised his Scottish Opera production first seen at the Edinburgh Festival in 2017, but now brought right up to date. Eddy arrives on stage wearing an English flag face mask, and the “Greek Chorus” scene announcing the arrival of the plague shows recent British tabloid headlines – “Brace for an Outbreak: KILLER VIRUS IS HERE”; “DON’T PANIC! PM tells us: Keep Calm and Carry On”; “The Ultimate Mega Boobs Photo Album” (a nod to Turnage’s later opera, Anna Nicole, perhaps?) – you get the drift. These, like other images, are projected live on to the set’s revolving white wall from a small light box/table at the side of the stage – foodstuffs being spread around are a common theme: baked beans swarming with living maggots for the plague, while at the putative “blinding” Eddy instead bloodies his face with ketchup. It’s an effective staging, one that is both economic and that copes well with the cinematic swiftness of scene changes. The four singers take on all roles, dispensing with the score’s quartet of actor extras for scenes such as the police riot – in any case it was the intention of both Berkoff and Turnage that Eddy equates all the men in his life with his father and all the women with his mother.

Angeles Blancas (Mum), Iris van Wijnen (Wife)
© Sandra Then

It’s easy to lose the score’s more lyrical aspects among the stentorian projection of the expletive-filled libretto, but this performance under Stephan Zilias gets the balance about right, as it does also between the music’s comedy and tragedy, helped by the cast’s vocal and dramatic flexibility. James Newby, Kathleen Ferrier Award alumnus, BBC New Generation Scheme member, currently in Hannover’s ensemble and looking newly shaven-headed for his role, is as convincing as a Cockney-accented Eddy as it is possible for an operatic singer to be (those nasal vowels and stretched diphthongs don’t lend themselves to high-flown singing). His monologue as he faces up to his fated deeds has particular intensity and the clarity of his diction throughout never falters. Iris van Wijnen’s Wife/Doreen/Sphinx 2/Waitress 1 and Michael Kupfer-Radecky’s Dad/Café Manager/Police Chief prove equally adaptable and make much of text and musical line. By contrast, I barely caught a word from Ángeles Blancas’s Mum/Sphinx 1/Waitress 2, though her duet with van Wijnen as the feminist Sphinx is a vocal highlight and her knees-up-in-the-pub duo with Kupfer-Radecky is a treat.

James Newby (Eddy)
© Sandra Then

Sadly, rights issues have prevented the stream being available for more than its first 24 hours (a four-week, on-demand availability was originally intended), but one hopes it will be able to reappear online soon and, moreover, that further live performances become possible before too long. As his “parents” say to him after he has killed the Sphinx: “Nice one, Eddy. Nice one, son.”

Greek Ensemble
© Sandra Then

This performance was reviewed from the Staatsoper Hannover video stream