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Ziggy Stardust in Reverse

Introducing Gadafy: the Opera.

Can an opera about the Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafy really be a good idea? There are precedents: in John Adams’ Nixon in China, for instance, Mao duets with the American president. Evita’s husband was a despot. Hitler is name-checked in Mel Brooks’s The Producers. And let’s not forget Trey Parker’s film Team America: World Police, in which a puppet North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il, sings a torch song about how lonely it is at the top – which it probably is.

 

But until now, no one has risked making an opera that puts a dictator centre stage, still less while he is alive. This autumn, the Asian Dub Foundation will remedy that with Gaddafi: the Opera, co-written with the playwright Shan Khan, and currently in rehearsal.

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The opera starts with Gadafy’s coup d’Ètat in 1969, when he was 28 years old, and follows his career right through to March 2004, when Tony Blair visited his tent for tea, thereby endorsing a man reviled by the west for more than three decades. But will it include topical showstoppers along the lines of “I’m gonna wash Saddam right outta my hair”, or “Nasser, he’s my baby. No sir, don’t mean maybe”?

 

Probably not – not least because all the music will be original. ADF’s Steve Chandra Savale (nicknamed Chandrasonic, because he used to tune all the strings of his guitar to one note and then play the instrument with a knife) is guarded about the details. He says the opera will deal with all the controversies surrounding the Libyan leader, including the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher during a demonstration outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984, Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli in 1986, the Lockerbie disaster of 1988, and Libya’s bankrolling of the IRA.

 

“I thought it would be interesting to do an anti-musical,” Savale explains. “Most musicals are just glorified karaoke or too nice, too mainstream. This will be anything but mainstream. It’s about a modern political myth. Gadafy’s like Ziggy Stardust in reverse.” How so? “Instead of a messianic pop star, you have this captivating man who took a great deal, in terms of his cult of personality, from Nasser [the west-defying Egyptian president]. He was and is an immensely seductive person, who isn’t really a fundamentalist, conservative or a socialist but is taken for all those things.

 

“And the story has everything – oil, terrorism, women bodyguards. [Gadafy] draws on his own Bedouin heritage as well as Marx, Rousseau and the Koran to create an idealistic revolution. Did you know,” Savale asks, peering earnestly through his straying locks, “that there is a day of revenge in Libya for the attempted genocide by the Italians?” I didn’t. After the interview, though, I find out that last year, to mark the 94th anniversary of Italy’s invasion, anyone trying to dial into the country heard a recorded message saying: “International communications are interrupted until 6pm to denounce the odious crimes committed by the Italians against the Libyan people.”

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Savale says ADF’s opera will be serious in tone, up until the final scene: Blair’s visit. “That will be shot through with satire, just because it was such a weird moment. He was the demon and suddenly he’s our friend.”

Sounds like a riot.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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