"Imagine the resonant sound of a nine-player chamber orchestra on the Theatre Works stage. Just stunning." Director Katy Maudlin and conductor Patrick Burns share their thoughts on the upcoming premiere of Iphis, a new chamber opera by Elena Kats-Chernin, presented by Lyric Opera.
Iphis is a chamber opera by Elena Kats-Chernin, with a libretto by Richard Toop, based on a myth from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Kats-Cherin composed the piece in the 90s while working extensively in Sydney's cabaret scene; it is her first opera. You can hear the cabaret influence in the score, as it draws on the cabaret and operatic traditions of Les Six and Kurt Weill, with echoes of Mozart and Stravinsky. The piece is sonically gorgeous, and the real bricolage of musical styles makes it accessible to a range of audiences. Expect an opera that has excerpts of ragtime, waltz, bossa nova, tango, and klezmer mixed together to create a colourful and engaging theatre work. Imagine the resonant sound of a nine-player chamber orchestra on the Theatre Works stage. Just stunning.
So, the story by Ovid goes; a girl, raised as a boy, loves another girl and, by a miracle of the gods, is transformed into a biological male just in time for their marriage. Very rarely in classical literature are we provided with a story of deep-felt desire by one woman for another. Particularly a narrative that is not reduced to a hyper-sexualised stereotype, but Ovid accomplishes this. That is, at the story's beginning. The sex change that occurs in the original tale's final throes shuts down any prospect of a lesbian reality and reasserts the heteronormative marital paradigm.
Toop’s libretto retains elements of the traditional narrative, but there are pivotal moments when the opera deviates from Ovid's telling of the love of Iphis and Ianthe. These subverted moments bring the opera into contemporary conversations of gender and sexuality; this includes the moment when Iphis and Ianthe meet, in Toop’s libretto, Ianthe realises that Iphis is a woman. Toop also debunks the traditional heteronormative notions which are included in the Metamorphoses version. Additionally, whilst the story focuses on the relationship of Iphis and Ianthe, this opera also shines a light on the supporting characters and their journeys and confrontations with their own identities.
Combined with this dialogue on gender and identity, a talented, young cast of six and striking design catapults this opera firmly into today. As the action of the show comes to an end and the orchestra plays their final notes, the audience is left to question the pervading ideologies surrounding gender, and prompted to think of the pressure put on children and families when these dogmas prevail. All the while being guided by the final words of our protagonists: “against the world, in life or death, our love remains.”
- Katy Maudlin and Patrick Burns
IPHIS Music by Elena Kats-Chernin Libretto by Richard Toop after Ovid’s Metamorphoses 26 August - 3 September BOOK HERE