Opera Sapho tells about the most prominent Antique Greek poetess (c.630 – c.570 BC), who managed to stand out and achieve an authority among the men dominating the Greek lyric of the day, while her extraordinary life became a source for gossip at the society of the time and has inspired creation of legends.
Key theme in Sapho’s works is love – a powerful and rampant feeling, and she managed to describe it so suggestively and visually as no one ever succeeded before her.
Although Lesbos was an island of freedom, the female life therein was happening away from men’s sight. Sapho was a mistress of a school for young girls, where she taught music, dance and good behaviour, preparing the pupils for a life in marriage. Sapho’s school adored the Muses, especially – Aphrodite. Beauty was the norm in their communication, hence it is natural that they admired each other.
Sapho’s poetry was distinguished for its sensual, feminine lyrics. While bidding farewell to wedding friends she sang unleashing poeticised emotions followed with tears and laments. The poet specifically distinguished names of several girls, thus a rumour was spread throughout ancient Greece that those were not just ordinary pupils… According to one legend, an unrequited love for the beautiful Phaon led Sapho to throw herself off of the cliff into the sea. Six hundred years later, this story was famed by Roman poet Ovid, who wrote a verse letter of the poetess to her beloved Phaon.
Centuries have veiled the historical truth under a layer of rumours and legends, unfortunately also destroying nearly all of Sapho’s poetry.
However, no gossip could overshadow the tremendous authority that Sapho had acquired in ancient Greece as a result of her musical poetry: her image was put on the coins of Mytilene, capital of Lesbos; Athenian politician Solon desired to hear Sapho’s song before dying, while Plato referred to her as the “Tenth Muse”.
The libretto is comprised of two parallel storylines. The actors retell the poem of Ovid, whereas the only soloist of the opera and the choir perform the surviving songs by the poetess.
Some of the music relies on existing old Greek melodies, their tones and authentic harmonies. This part is blended with composer’s original music that retains the archaic character.