The Modern Greek Chorus
For Suzie Miller’s adaptation of Euripides’ Medea (produced by La Boite Theatre Company and directed by Todd MacDonald), the team and I have taken an exciting creative leap and incorporated a completely-sung ‘Greek' Chorus. I’ve plucked four singers from the ranks of my vocal ensemble The Australian Voices.
What is the role of the chorus anyway? In the early days of Athenian drama, a single actor interacted with a chorus. The chorus was there to comment homogeneously on the action, pass judgement, offer advice and explain the play. They allegedly sang, spoke, danced and wore masks. Eventually the tragedian Aeschylus came up with an astonishing innovation: to incorporate a second actor; drama as we (sort of) know it got going! No one knows what or how the chorus sang their odes. In fact it was in an effort by the Camerata de’ Bardi in the late Renaissance to recreate the sung Greek chorus that the first operas were composed.
The events of Euripides’ Medea are famous (still, this is a spoiler alert): the barbarian Medea, jilted by her Greek husband Jason, takes revenge on him by having her children deliver a poisoned wedding outfit to his new bride, the Corinthian Princess Glauki. The delighted Princess tries on her gown before Medea has a chance to escape with her children. In an effort to spare them a hideous end by the people of Corinth, she poisons them; the agony this causes to Jason (now wifeless, childless) is a happy byproduct.
Our chorus is partially but not completely based on Euripides chorus. They are worried onlookers, on Medea’s side, but not yet aware of her murderous intentions. They sing a mixture of English and Greek. Suzie Miller’s chorus text sometime echoes the lines of the characters, hurled back at the actors. They sing in modern Greek “mitera, politeftis, erastis” (mother, politician, lover), three aspects to Medea’s identity. Todd and I have borrowed the INXS song Never Tear Us Apart to woven into the fleece – usually to ironic effect – as a sad contrast to the literal and metaphorical tearing apart of this family.
Some sound is heard from speakers: I recorded myself singing the three aforementioned Greek words on a single tone, then digitally slowed it down to 90 minutes (the approximate duration of the play). We let this recording play for the entire work, at times faded up or down, depending on what’s going on. Thus, all sound heard in the thing is made by a human voice either speaking or singing.
I have the chorus sing in Greek scales: aeolian phrygian and dorian. I don’t know how the Athenians preferred their choral tonalities, but for me, the nod to these three Pythagorean tonalities is a satisfying connection.
Season 30 May - 20 June
Venue Roundhouse Theatre
For bookings click here.