New Line Theatre, “the bad boy of musical theatre,” has announced a free public reading of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Bloody King Oedipus” on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at 7 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, in the Grand Center Arts District.
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, an opera no one even knew existed until now, based on Sophocles’ iconic Greek tragedy of murder, incest, disfigurement, and suicide.
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 goryBloody 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, Tiresias the Blind Seer, Milo the Herald, and all of Thebes will make their comic 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 free public reading of the rediscovered show January 6, 2020. The company has not yet announced a full production.
ABOUT NEW LINE THEATRE
New Line Theatre is a professional company dedicated to involving the people of the St. Louis region in the exploration and creation of daring, provocative, socially and politically relevant works of musical theatre. New Line was created back in 1991 at the vanguard of a new wave of nonprofit musical theatre just starting to take hold across the country.
The company has given birth to several world premiere musicals over the years and has brought back to life several shows that were not well served by their original New York productions. Altogether, New Line has produced 86 musicals since 1991, and the company has been given its own entry in the Cambridge Guide to American Theatre and the annual Theater World. New Line receives funding from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
New Line’s 28th season continues with La Cage aux Folles in March, and the St. Louis premiere of the new rock musical Be More Chill in June.
The Zombies of Penzance script, piano score, and live original cast album are all available on Amazon.com and other online retailers and streaming services.
For other information, visit New Line Theatre’s full-service website at www.newlinetheatre.com. All programs are subject to change.