In the mid 1980s Margaret Atwood wrote her gripping and chilling science fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is set in a totalitarian, patriarchal society – The Republic of Gilead – where human fertility is waning and fertile women are kept as breeding slaves. The book is now a classic in literature and a new TV series based on the novel is being released on April 26.
In 1998 Poul Ruders finished his opera based on Atwood’s novel and The Handmaid’s Tale, with a libretto by Paul Bentley, premiered in Copenhagen in 2000. Since then it has been staged in the UK and in Canada. Ruders tells the story of suppression, terror and dreams of freedom in colourful and intense music which follows the destiny of the main character, Offred. In 2001 a recording of the opera was released by Dacapo Records.
Opera has always told the stories that point beyond our everyday lives: love stories, war stories, silly and funny stories, as well as painful, scary and dark stories. The dystopian tales are among some of opera’s most gripping and powerful, especially in contemporary opera. Even though they often take place in the future, they always tell us about our society today and express emotions that are universal and timeless.
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of these dystopian operas, but in our Music Sales Classical catalogue there are many others to explore. For example why not take a look at Elysium by Rolf Wallin and Other Buildings by Andy Pape, Dark Sisters by Nico Muhly, Under the Double Moon by Anthony Davis or Philip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox.
Dystopian Operas - playlist on Spotify