The Harpies by Marc Blitzstein: 2012 Halifax Summer Opera Workshop

The third of our three programmes for the 2012 HSOW will be an evening of One Act Operas in English,and we’re especially proud to present a real operatic rarity: The Harpies, composed in 1930 by American composer Marc Blitzstein.  

This operatic spoof of Greek mythology – and of musical neo-classicism – is also intended as a Depression-era allegory. Drawing on Greek mythological characters while satirizing the classical operatic form, with traces of pop music of the period and barbershop harmony thrown in for good measure, the opera expresses, in allegorical format, the composer’s attitude toward economic and political conditions as they existed at the time of the the Great Depression.

Set in ancient Thrace, the work has eight characters, balanced between tenor and soprano principals, a group of three female Harpies, and three male Argonauts. At the center is Phineus, a sightless oracle, who attempts to enjoy his dinner but is constantly attacked by the Harpies. Not only do they steal his food, they emit a foul odour as well. Jason appears on the scene with the Argonauts, and he promises to fight off the Harpies if Phineus will guarantee that the gods will continue to favor them. As soon as the Harpies are defeated Iris appears as a messenger of the gods. She promises Phineus that he will always be safe from the Harpies, and she dispatches them to experience various tortures. The prophet can now eat his meal in peace.

Music Director:  Jennifer Szeto
Stage Director:  Steven Bourque
Vocal Coach:  Lucy Hayes Davis

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