Iannis Xenakis's Oresteia
Miller Theatre
Columbia University

September 13, 16, 17

On Saturday, September 13, 2008, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University begins its 20th anniversary season with the United States premiere of Iannis Xenakis’ Oresteia. Xenakis, twentieth century composer of electronic music and visionary reconfigurer of sound, first presented Oresteia, his only opera, in 1966. A re-imagining of Aeschylus' epic tragedy, it is a demonstration of a heart-felt affinity to ancient Greece for Xenakis, a common reference point in his work. Oresteia is a rarity, however, in that the music is formed directly on the model of an ancient text.

Scene from a Veggetti choreography

Oresteia is Xenakis’ longest work, and took him the longest of any of his works to complete. The debut performance, in the summer of 1966, took place on a college baseball field. It was directed by Alexis Solomos, artistic head of the National Theater of Greece. In the 1980s, Xenakis added a new section, Kassandra, for a performance amid the ruins of Gibellina, Sicily, for which he revised the piece for two performers, the actor-singer Spiros Sakkas and the percussionist Sylvio Gualda. In 1992, for a performance in Athens honoring him on his 70th birthday, Xenakis composed an additional section, La Déesse Athéna (The Goddess Athene), for Sakkas. The 1992 version was the final version of the opera.

The Aeschylus story depicts the familial tragedy of Orestes, who seeks revenge of the murder of his father, Agamemnon, by his mother, Clytemnestra. Pieces of the three plays, Agamemnon, Choephoroi, and The Eumenides, are presented in order, with a chorus onstage throughout. The drama is puctuated with the sonic language of varying intervals, tonalities, and styles. Percussion and coarse noises evoke primal emotions, creating an elemental connection to the tribulations of the characters. Xenakis’ ability to marry the ancient with the modern enabled him to create a contemporary treatment of Oresteia that was nuanced and bold, poignant and sublime.

The US premiere of Oresteia will be a new multimedia production including dance, theater, music, and projections, directed and choreographed by Luca Veggetti in the spirit of Xenakis’s concept of opera as total theater.

Miller Theater