Lysistrata – Mark Adamo

Lysistrata -Mark Adamo

Illustration from Lysistrata by Aubrey Beardsley Buy it at 

Lysistrata or The Nude Goddess by Mark Adamo is opera buffa with a tremolo of serious drama. Commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and Opera Columbus, Lysistrata, which pits women against men in a sexually driven war against war, is in its second co-production of three at New York City Opera during a time when the debate is escalating over whether the United States should continue its involvement in the civil war raging within Iraq.When Adamo’s flowing music, framed by complicated rhythms and bursts of exotic percussion, began under the baton of George Manahan, the expectation was to see the airborne trio of furies who invoke the story of Lysistrata. Loosely based on Aristophanes’ play , Adamo’s clever libretto follows some of the comic touches that Aristophanes used, such as the provincial dialect spoken by the women and men of Sparta which make them sound like Loony Tunes character Elmer Fudd. Adamo’s Spartans say words like Greece as Gweeze.Director Michael Kahn employs an agile and spirited cast that includes originating singers from the Houston production: soprano Emily Pulley as Lysistrata, contralto Myrna Paris as Kleonike, tenor Chad Shelton as Nico, mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood as Lampito. The original set by Derek McLane and used for the New York City projection features a revolving structure that serves on one side as Lysistrata’s bedroom and on the other as the Acropolis, the storehouse of money and weapons in which the women of Athens and Sparta barricade themselves. The colorful costumes by Murrell Horton predominately emphasize the sex of the wearer. Once the lower-ranking soldiers hear that their wives and lovers have declared a moratorium on sex until their war is ended, their tunics rise with tumescent reaction. Have Kahn, Adamo and Horton gone too graphic? Consider that Aristophanes used leather penises as part of the soldiers’ costumes.The women’s rebellion is led by General Nico’s lover who is first known as Lysia until later she is crowned by the women as Lysistrata, “she who brings peace.” Lysia has a difficult time convincing the women because initially they are not willing to give up sex with their men. One of the most memorable arias is sung by Myrrhine who tells Lysia “Peace, yes, but what about love?” It is a sultry and jazzy aria that mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera puts across with sexy longing. Except for Sappho (mezzo-soprano Jennifer Roderer) who is “getting a lot of poetry written,” the women, including Lysia, have a hard time not sneaking off to be their men.Act II, although still offering comic lines, is much more serious. The warring generals Nico, representing Athens, and Leonidas (baritone Stephen Kechulius), representing Sparta, are forced to meet because their soldiers are consumed with the consequences of the women’s sexual sanctions. Chad Shelton as Nico delivers a moving aria about how a soldier’s heart and hands are not his own in war.What’s fascinating about this satisfying evening of theater is that Adamo not only puts the audience at ease with his high and low comic techniques that run the gamut from cliches like “slam, bam, thank you, m’am” and breaking through the invisible fourth wall when one of the characters invites the audience to join in a much repeated refrain, but also that the playwright-composer puts us in frantic touch with a current-day, emotionally fraught subject—the war in Iraq and its implications for loved ones who are serving our country as soldiers.
Karren Alenier is a swing-dancing poet whose opera, Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, with composer William Banfield and New York City’s Encompass New Opera Theatre artistic director Nancy Rhodes premiered in New York City in June 2005. She writes a monthly column for entitled "The Steiny Road to Operadom." Read about her forthcoming book on opera—The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas at