1994 – ANTiphony – ABOUT


Commissioned by W11 Opera in 1994 and revived in 2005Also performed by other opera companies; please see its entry on the Revivals page.

Synopsis: Two ant colonies, one peaceful (but dull), the other one military (but cowardly), live in constant rivalry. Can a pair of musical grasshoppers change their lives? Is the Fly on the Wall a double agent? And just how obnoxious can the Warrior Ant Queen get?

Composer Graham Preskett  
Librettist John Kane
Music Director Harry Gregson-Williams
Soloists Gaston, Cigale, Fly, White Queen, White Queen’s Major Domos (White Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady), Red Queen, Red Queen’s Brigadiers (Wasp, Hornet, Stag Beetle) Miss Tique
Groups Moths, Caterpillars, Worker Ants, Mosquitoes, Ladybirds, Soldier Ants  
Orchestra Violins (2), Harp, Bass, Saxophone, Woodwind, Bassoon, Horn, Keyboard, Accordion, Guitar, Percussion, Organ  

Notes on Production: Appealing to teenagers as much as to younger children, this fable of insect life turns the story of the ant and the grasshopper on its head as fun-loving grasshoppers end a war between rival ant colonies. It has moments of high drama, comedy, satire and poignancy with a wide range of characters, making this an extremely popular W11 commission.

Musically, Antiphony is more in the Broadway musical comedy tradition than the operatic. The songs are relatively easy to learn, with excellent choruses and tunes drawing on a range of traditional rhythms. There are harmonies and part-singing.

A number of large-scale crowd scenes would benefit from the presence of a specialist choreographer/movement director. Scene changes can be indicated by distinctive costumes instead of set elements and basic props. Doubling was not used in the original production. Age group: from nine upwards. Has been staged with adult soloists.

Running time 70 minutes.


It is Monday morning. The worker ants are off to their factory, bored, unmotivated, they resent their monotonous routine, especially when train cancellations mean they have to walk to work. Enter Gaston and Cigale, two busking grasshoppers, who encourage the workers to start singing. Reluctant at first, the ants gradually lose their inhibitions, and rallied by the music they leave for the factory in high spirits.

Meantime, the White Queen has planned a royal inspection of the factory; the Foreman and Works Committee panic as the workforce are nowhere to be seen. The Queen and her courtiers are unimpressed by the empty factory, and are about to leave when the ants appear — late, but invigorated they evidently work better if they sing and the Queen decides to hire the Grasshoppers full time.

The Fly lurking In the shadows, observes the improvement in the standard of work and plans to hire out the services of the Grasshoppers to the neighbouring colony of soldier ants.

Over the border, the Red Queen is already despairing of her ineffectual soldiers. The Fly persuades her that the Grasshoppers music could transform her men, just as it transformed the workers. The Red Queen is convinced and commands the Fly to bring her the Grasshoppers.

Meanwhile back in the worker colony, the White Queen announces a national holiday. Music has inspired the workers to complete their winter storage in record time. Gaston and CIgale are heroes.

The Fly tries to entice the Grasshoppers over the border with promises of fame and fortune. Cigale refuses to be tempted but Gaston, flattered by the irresistible Miss Tique, signs the Fly’s contract and Is lured into the warrior camp.

The Red Queen’s War Cabinet are disgusted by Gaston’s peaceable tunes. The Fly makes some drastic changes to Gaston’s image, and their new brutal music stirs the soldiers into a frenzy of aggression.

The Red Queen is delighted, and immediately declares war on the Workers.