Oresteia
Composer: Andrew Earle Simpson
Librettist: Sarah Brown Ferrario
Original Cast: The entire "Oresteia" may be performed by 7 principal soloists, 12 SSAA Furies, and SATB Chorus, as follows: 1. Soprano (coloratura): Kassandra (Act 1); Elektra (Act 2); Athena (Act 3) 2. Soprano (dramatic): Klytemnestra (Acts 1, 2, 3) 3. Mezzo-soprano: Nurse (Act 2), Pythia (Act 3) 4. Tenor (lirico spinto): Watchman (Act 1), Orestes (Acts 2, 3) 5. Tenor (character): Aegisthus (Acts 1, 2) 6. Baritone: Agamemnon (Act 1), Pylades (Act 2), Apollo (Act 3) 7. Bass-baritone: Herald (Act 1), Slave (Act 2)
Work Web Site: http://music.cua.edu/oresteia
Premiere Date: Not available.
Producing Company: The Catholic University of America Opera Theater
Description: "Oresteia" relates the events of the house of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the beginning of the Trojan War to the accession of Agamemnon's son Orestes to the throne of Argos. ACT 1, "AGAMEMNON" King Agamemnon, leader of the victorious Greek armies in the Trojan War, returns home triumphantly to Argos, only to be murdered by his wife Klytemnestra. The action is based faithfully on Aeschylus' ancient Greek tragedy, "Agamemnon" (the first play of the "Oresteia" trilogy). The opera begins with a lone Watchman (tenor) seeing a distant signal-fire which signifies the fall of Troy. He announces this news to the Chorus, which rejoices and then relates an event from ten years past, in which Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia, thus allowing the Greek fleet fair winds to sail to Troy. Queen Klytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, has been plotting with her lover Aegisthus to kill Agamemnon and avenge Iphigeneia's death. She enters and imagines the scenes of destruction of the sack of Troy, and hints at the dark end awaiting Agamemnon upon his return. A Herald arrives to announce the Greeks' victory and Agamemnon's imminent arrival. Agamemnon arrives in triumph, accompanied by Kassandra, the Trojan priestess of Apollo, now Agamemnon's slave: they are hailed by the Chorus. Klytemnestra welcomes both with deceptive hospitality. Kassandra, in a prophetic trance, relates past events from the house of Agamemnon and foresees her murder at Klytemnestra's hands. Although amazed by her knowledge of past events, the Chorus does not believe Kassandra's predictions of her own death. Kassandra follows Agamemnon and Klytemnestra into the palace. Agamemnon's death cries are heard offstage, and Klytemnestra appears in triumph over the bodies of Agamemnon and Kassandra. The Chorus, horrified, rebukes Klytemnestra and mourns Agamemnon. Aegisthus, the new King, enters to relate his own long-standing grudge against Agamemnon. The Chorus angrily revolts, but Aegisthus' bodyguard staves off the mob. Klytemnestra and Aegisthus re-enter the palace as the new rulers of Argos. ACT 2, "THE LIBATION BEARERS" Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Klytemnestra, returns from exile to Argos, where, conspiring with his sister Elektra, he kills Klytemnestra to avenge Agamemnon's earlier murder at her hands. The action is based faithfully on Aeschylus' ancient Greek tragedy, "The Libation Bearers" (the second play of the "Oresteia" trilogy). Agamemnon, the King of Argos and the victorious leader of the Greek armies in the Trojan War, was murdered by his wife Klytemnestra upon his return to Argos. Klytemnestra, now Queen of Argos, rules with Aegisthus, her lover and co-conspirator in Agamemnon's murder. Orestes' sister Elektra, daughter of Agamemnon and Klytemnestra, has been relegated to the status of a slave. The opera begins at the grave of Agamemnon. Orestes and his friend Pylades approach the tomb; upon hearing a procession of women coming, they hide. A Chorus of household slaves (captured Trojan women) approach the tomb. They have been sent by Klytemnestra to pour libations to appease the spirit of Agamemnon. Elektra, who is with the slave women, joins them in their laments for Agamemnon's fate as well as their own. Orestes recognizes his sister Elektra among the women, and reveals his identity to her. Elektra joyfully welcomes her brother Orestes; together with the Chorus, the siblings plot the murders of Klytemnestra and Aegisthus and the restoration of Orestes to his rightful place on the throne of Argos. They attempt to raise the spirit of Agamemnon to bless their enterprise, but Agamemnon's ghost does not appear. The plot is now put in motion. Orestes and Pylades, disguised as travellers from a distant city, appear at the palace seeking hospitality for the night. Klytemnestra welcomes the guests. They announce false news of Orestes' death, and Klytemnestra summons Aegisthus to hear this news. Orestes and Pylades kill Aegisthus, and then confront Klytemnestra. Klytemnestra attempts to sway Orestes from his purpose; he wavers, but Pylades encourages him. Orestes and Pylades drag Klytemnestra offstage to her death. Orestes appears, tortured, over the bodies of Klytemnestra and Aegisthus. He announces that he will travel to Delphi to be purified of this murder by Apollo. Already, however, he is growing mad: he sees the Furies, terrible goddesses who punish those who kill their blood kin, coming for him. Orestes, now insane, leaves for Delphi with the Furies in pursuit. ACT 3, "THE FURIES" Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Klytemnestra, has killed his mother and is thus pursued by the Furies. In a trial at Athens presided over by Athena, Orestes is tried for his crime and is acquitted. Athena placates the Furies by offering them places of honor in Athens. The action is based on Aeschylus' ancient Greek tragedy, "Eumenides." The opera begins at Delphi, at Apollo's temple. The Pythia, priestess of Apollo, discovers Orestes and the sleeping Furies inside the temple. Apollo tells Orestes to go to Athens and seek the protection of Athena. Orestes leaves. The Ghost of Klytemnestra appears, rouses the Furies and urges them to continue the chase. The Furies sing of their hatred of Orestes; Apollo drives them from his temple. Orestes arrives at Athens and takes refuge in Athena's temple, where the Furies discover him. As they are about to kill him, Athena appears. She places Orestes under her protection, but honors the justice of the Furies' claim by instituting a trial to determine Orestes' guilt. The trial is held at Athens, with Apollo as Orestes' defense attorney, the Furies as the prosecutors, and Athena as the presiding judge. Orestes is acquitted, and leaves to take up the throne of Argos. The Furies violently protest what they see as an unjust verdict, and threaten to destroy Athens. Athena persuades them to accept a place of honor in her city instead, and be worshipped forever by the citizens of Athens. The joyful closing chorus escorts the Furies (now the "Eumenides," or "kindly ones") to their new home under the Acropolis.
Total Acts: 3
Chorus: SATB Chorus
Orchestration: fl, ob, vn, va, vc, pno, 1 perc
Musical Style: Tonal/modal with chromatic inflections; number-opera structure, with arias for each principal role; performable by colleges/universities
Contact: Andrew Earle Simpson
E-mail Address: simpson@cua.edu
Phone: 202-319-5564 or 301-330-5408
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