'Lysistrata, or The Nude Goddess,' by Mark Adamo

From Houston Grand Opera

WHO'S WHO

  • Emily Pulley ............. Lysistrata
  • Chad Shelton .................. Nico
  • Myrna Paris ............... Kleonike
  • Laquita Mitchell ......... Myrrhine
  • Victoria Livengood ...... Lampito
  • Joshua Winograde .... Leonidas
  • Joshua Hopkins ......... Kinesias
  • Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus
  • Stefan Lano, conductor

ON THE AIR

WORLD OF OPERA

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Laquita Mitchell and Joshua Hopkins in 'Lysistrata'

A blindfolded Kinesias (Joshua Hopkins) is under the seductive spell of Myrrhine (Laquita Mitchell), in the Houston production of Lysistrata. Brett Coomer hide caption

itoggle caption Brett Coomer

The phrase "make love, not war" often conjures memories of the 1960's hippie culture, with its peace symbols and free love. But the sentiment has been around for a lot longer than that.

More than 2000 years ago, the Greek playwright Aristophanes, an Athenian, decided to make a statement on the then-current state of public affairs. At the time, Athens and Sparta had been at war for decades and Aristophanes, it seems, felt that was more than long enough. So he weighed in on the issue with one of his signature, dramatic devices: satire.

In the year 411 B.C., Aristophanes came up with a play headlined by a character named Lysistrata — an Athenian woman who is fed up with constant war and decides to do something about it. Her basic plan is to assemble noble woman from all over Greece, and persuade them to withhold sex from their warrior husbands until the men agree to end the fighting.

Whether the play's message had any effect is hard to say. After it was finished, Aristophanes gave up on political plays for almost twenty years, and the war dragged on. But his Lysistrata did find its way into an early-21st century opera by the American composer Mark Adamo.

Adamo first put himself on the operatic map with his critical and popular hit Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. That one was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, and was performed there in 1998 and 2000.

Little Women was so successful that before long Houston Grand Opera commissioned another work from Adamo. The result was the composer's hilarious take on the ancient satire by Aristophanes — a new opera called Lysistrata, or The Nude Goddess that also had its world premiere in Houston.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents that world premiere production with an ensemble cast featuring soprano Emily Pulley in the title role, along with tenor Chad Shelton, soprano Laquita Mitchell and mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood, all led by conductor Stefan Lano, from downtown Houston's Wortham Theater Center.

See the previous edition of WORLD OF OPERA or the full archive.

The Story of 'Lysistrata'

Women protest the war in 'Lysistrata'

The women of Greece are fed up with the ongoing war between Athens and Sparta, and decide to take to the streets, in Act One of Lysistrata. Brett Coomer hide caption

itoggle caption Brett Coomer
Lampito and Myrrhine lay down the law

Lampito and Myrrhine (Victoria Livengood, left, and Laquita Mitchell) read the women's anti-war ultimatum: No Peace? No Sex! Brett Coomer hide caption

itoggle caption Brett Coomer

ACT ONE: In Mark Adamo's opera, the character Aristophanes dubbed Lysistrata goes by the name Lysia, and she's as much a jealous lover as she is a devoted pacifist.

The action begins with an invocation by the Three Furies. They urge the audience to pay attention to this story of a woman, a man and two armies at war.

The Furies vanish, and we see women marching on an Athenian street. Kleonike is leading the anti-war demonstration, and she explains to Myrrhine how the war started: It had something to do with disputed land.

From her window, Lysistrata — or Lysia — tells the women to go elsewhere. She's scheduled to meet privately wtih Nico, an Athenian general, supposedly to discuss peace. Kleonike is suspicious, but leads the women away anyway.

It turns out that Nico and Lysia are actually lovers. When they're alone, Lysia tempts him. She demands to know if he has kept his promise to resign his commission and devote more time to her. He explains why he can't, and she explodes. Nico tries to get Lysia's mind off the dispute by blindfolding her, as a pretext for lovemaking. But the army's trumpets summon Nico to his station, and he goes — leaving Lysia frustrated once again. And this time, she vows revenge.

In the next scene, Nico's army prepares for battle. Myrrhine tells Lysia that all the money and weapons in the Acropolis are guarded only by men who were deemed unsuitable to serve as soldiers. Lysia hatches a plan, and urges the other women to meet at her house early the next day.

In the morning, her Athenian friends are surprised to find Lysia with a houseful of Spartan women. Lysia introduces the women of Athens to Lampito, wife of the Spartan general Leonidas. Lysia reveals her plan: The women will barricade themselves in the Acropolis and force the men to come to peace by withholding sex.

At first the Athenian women refuse. But when Lampito says the Spartan women will go along with it, the Athenians agree. Still, Kleonike is more than a little suspicious — she doesn't see how Lysia is going to be able to deny her affections to Nico. Lysia is evasive.

In the next scene, Nico finds his lieutenant, Kinesias, looking troubled. When Kinesias reveals the latest news, the two men race to the Acropolis with their army — only to find that the women have taken over the place. The Spartan army is already there and with both warring armies assembled, Lysia and the women announce their demands: If there's no peace, there will also be no sex.

ACT TWO: Weeks later, the soldiers are clearly frustrated. The Spartan Leonidas approaches the Athenian Nico to discuss the reasons for the ongoing war. Nico denies that he's just a follower. He says he's fighting on principle. Meanwhile, Kinesias, dreaming of his girlfriend Myrrhine, sneaks off to find her.

Inside the Acropolis, the women are also frustrated. In fact, they're about to give up. Kinesias approaches Myrrhine seductively. With Lysia's encouragement, Myrrhine stands firm, and Kinesias slinks off back to camp. By now the soldiers have had it. They plead with Nico to find a way out of their predicament, and he agrees to approach Lysia.

When the two meet, he and Lysia attack each other's politics. But it's clear they're still in love. Finally, they make a private arrangement. He will leave the army and come back to her if she ends the rebellion. Without consulting the other women, she agrees, and Nico departs.

Not knowing about Lysia's meeting with Nico, Kleonike and the other women praise Lysia for her selflessness, and rename her Lysistrata. (It's a name that Aristophanes made up — and translates, roughly, as "She Who Puts an End to War.") When Kleonike asks her to speak, Lysia can only stammer. Then the armies appear. Lysia, crowned by her followers, addresses the lover for whom she agreed to betray them. In a turnabout, much to Nico's dismay, she urges the women to stand their ground. She then introduces the men to Lampito, who is dressed — and just barely dressed — as the Goddess of Peace. On her body is a map of the disputed land.

Kleonike uses the beautiful Lampito to tease the men into considering a settlement. Prodded by Leonidas, Nico relents. But he also rejects Lysistrata. The crowd prepares for celebration while Lysistrata is grief stricken.

The festivities are in full swing, but as people drink they start to get surly. Leonidas and Kinesias start arguing about the land feud. Nico intercedes, but not in time. Leonidas and Kinesias kill each other.

Now it's the women who start calling for revenge, led by Lampito and Myrrhine. Kleonike prays to the gods, singing "Ares, Aphrodite, when will all this end?"

At that, like magic, Ares and Aphrodite appear. They take pity on the mortals, and resurrect Kinesias and Leonidas. The gods also offer some advice. Conflict, they say, is eternal, both in war and in love. They urge the Greeks to treasure peace when they have it — because sooner or later, it will surely disappear. Then the gods themselves vanish, and everyone joins in a hymn of thanks.

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