King Oedipus is already having a bad day, and here comes some REALLY bad news...!.
After shocking the music and theatre worlds by rediscovering Gilbert & Sullivan’s lost masterpiece The Zombies of Penzance
in 2013, and then staging and publishing the controversial original opera, in 2018, now New Line Theatre artistic director Scott Miller has done it once again. This time, Miller has unearthed Gilbert & Sullivan’s even darker and funnier BLOODY KING OEDIPUS, a comic opera no one even knew existed until now, based on Sophocles’ iconic Greek tragedy of murder, incest, disfigurement, suicide, and lots of prophecies, which first debuted in 429 BC.
The legendary British team of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan together wrote fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896. Or is it sixteen? After rewriting their original Zombies of Penzance at the insistence of producer Richard D’Oyly Carte, the team premiered The Pirates of Penzance in 1879. Until now, scholars believed that their next project was the pastoral satire Patience. We now know that isn’t true. After the huge success of HMS Pinafore and Pirates, the team decided to tackle something a bit weightier. According to personal papers found with the manuscript, it was Gilbert who suggested two unlikely possibilities, Dante’s Inferno, and the classic Greek tragedy Oedipus the King, set in Thebes, a Greek city-state in the 13th century BC.
They both agreed Inferno would make a less than satisfying comic opera.
Gilbert stayed curiously faithful to the plot and characters of Sophocles’ ancient tragedy – until the end of the show, when Gilbert evidently couldn’t restrain himself from adding a comic, Gilbertian twist, upending everything that’s come before, as usual. It’s safe to say Sophocles would not have sanctioned Gilbert’s much more comic ending. The score included song titles like “We’ve Been Very, Very Sick,” “I Can See Now I Was Blind,” “Now This is Quite Awkward,” “So Our King Just Might Have Murdered Our Last King,” and “He Hasn’t Taken It Too Well.”
As he had done with The Zombies of Penzance, Richard D’Oyly Carte refused to produce the gory Bloody King Oedipus, convinced that Gilbert & Sullivan’s audience did not want to see the hero of the story gouge both his eyes out after his wife has hanged herself, beautiful music and clever rhymes or not. Gilbert was enraged, but eventually gave in (again) and wrote an entirely new libretto to Sullivan’s finished score, now as the gentle satire Patience, leaving nothing of the original text.
In 2018, Miller was contacted by an American college student in London, who had come across the original manuscript of the full score of Bloody King Oedipus, while cataloguing some newly discovered private papers of Richard D’Oyly Carte’s cousin Maud. There among the correspondence was a letter written by the outraged producer, though evidently never mailed, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, insisting on the excommunication of Gilbert from the Church of England due to his “second un-Christian opera in a row” -- Bloody King Oedipus.
The discovery of this second lost Gilbert & Sullivan horror opera now forces a reexamination of the team’s entire output, and what we thought we knew about their taste in source material.
And now, at long last, King Oedipus, Queen Jocasta, General Creon, Milo the Herald, and all of Thebes will make their light opera debut. Miller has painstakingly reassembled these rediscovered materials into their original form; and St. Louis composer and orchestrator John Gerdes is reconstructing Sullivan’s music, after doing the same with The Zombies of Penzance.
New Line Theatre will present a public reading of the rediscovered show in January 2020. The company has not yet announced a full production.
For the reading, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor will play King Oedipus; with Kimi Short as Queen Jocasta; Kent Coffel as Gen. Creon; Lindsey Jones as Manto; and Zak Farmer as the Royal Messenger, and Tiresias the Blind Seer, and Milo the Herald, and also Phorbus the Shepherd. The rest of the cast will be announced later. The reading will be directed by Scott Miller and music directed by Nicolas Mario Valdez.
Praise for The Zombies of Penzance
"Another triumph for New Line. . . a hilariously inspired joke."
-- Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatcch
"Both a nightmare and a delight — let's call it a delightmare."
-- Paul Friswold, The Riverfront Times
"Uproarious." -- Jeff Ritter, Critical Blast
"It's amazing. . . so much fun." -- Kevin Brackett, ReviewSTL
"A wonderful whirlwind of apocalyptic delight."
-- Tanya Seale, BroadwayWorld
"Reverently irreverent and witty. . . a delightfully fun, pointedly funny musical."
-- Tina Farmer KDHX