1987 – Ulysses and the Wooden Horse – ABOUT

Ulysses and the Wooden Horse

Commissioned by W11 Opera in 1987 and revived in 1996Also performed by other opera companies; please see its entry on the Revivals page.


Synopsis: The famous story of the Trojan Horse intertwined with the story of Helen and Paris, and the stealing of the Palladium, a meteorite that has the power to protect the Trojans against their Greek enemies.


Composer Timothy Kraemer

Librettist Timothy Kraemer
Music Director Nicholas Kraemer
Soloists Zeus, Ilius, King Priam, Paris, Hyperion, Melius, Deiphobus, Helen, Menelaus, Ulysses, Agamemnon, Sinon
Groups Ministers, Officers, Handmaidens, Caryatids, Helen’s Suitors, Sailors
Orchestra 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Alto Sax/ Clarinet, Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, Percussion, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums, Piano, Synthesiser

Notes on Production: A humorous take on the story of the Trojan war, not faithful to Homer but with some fun additions.

Very straightforward music, easy to learn, uses pop, jazz and dance rhythms which offer scope for choreography. There is much unison singing and some simple two part harmonies.

The original W11 production involved an oversized wooden horse – but simpler staging and props would be also effective.. Age range 9-16 but ULYSSES has been performed by primary school casts in a reduced version.

Running time 60 minutes maximum.


Music 

Please visit the Video and Audio pages for clips from the production.


Reviews and Feedback: Reviewed in The Times, see here.


Plot

Prologue

Ilus, the narrator, tells us what the opera is all about – the Trojan War. But first we see the founding of Troy, and how a Sacred Cow selects the site of the new City. Zeus signifies his approval of the Cow’s choice by sending his special sign – a meteorite called the Palladium, As long as the Palladium remains in the City, Zeus will give his divine protection.

Priam, King of Troy, proclaims his territorial rights against Greece, and his proud warriors aggressively defy the Greeks, who return their hostility. Each side is confident of eventual victory.

Act 1

Three centuries later, in the Grecian town of Sparta, we see the events which started the Trojan War. Helen, a Greek princess, who is reputed to be the most beautiful girl in the world, is courted by no less than 27 Greek heroes; she eventually chooses Menelaus, the king’s brother. But married life is not all that Helen expects, and when Paris, a Trojan prince, arrives in disguise determined to abduct her, she rather relishes the excitement. Though Paris tells Menelaus of his intentions, Menelaus does not take him seriously, and Helen allows herself to be carried off to Troy. But as soon as Menelaus realises that Helen has really gone, he rushes off to tell his brother, King Agamemnon, who declares war on Troy until Helen is returned. He chooses Ulysses, with Argus his dog, to lead the expedition and, under his command, the heroes set sail for Troy.

Act 2

Ten years later both sides, the Greeks and the Trojans, are exhausted by the war. Paris has been killed in the fighting and Helen has been forced to marry Paris’ brother. She yearns for Menelaus, who misses her too. They appear to see each other in their mind’s eye and, as Helen sings of her love for Menelaus, he, though far away in Greece, seems to hear her and responds.

Meanwhile outside the Trojan Walls, Ulysses tells his Greek warriors of his latest idea for winning the war. He plans to enter Troy disguised as one of the city’s beggars, many of whom sleep every night in the Temple where the Palladium is kept under guard. Ulysses will drug the guard and steal the Palladium and Troy will no longer be under Zeus’s protection.

Inside Troy, the Palladium is being guarded by Ilus alone. He tries to take his duties very seriously but is easily distracted, first by the beggars sleeping in the Temple, and then by a crowd of worshippers who come to pay homage to the Palladium. Ulysses hides among the beggars with his drugged bottle and Ilus, as he walks close by, catches its delicious aroma. He tastes the contents, and soon the drug has sent him fast asleep. Ulysses seizes his chance and makes off with the Palladium.

Act 3

The Trojan army under King Priam boasts of their strength and continues to defy the Greeks even though they realise that they have lost the Palladium. Meanwhile Ulysses and Argus have one more idea up their sleeve. An enormous wooden horse is dragged up the beach by a small boy, Sinon. The Trojans panic on seeing it and rush back into Troy. Sinon, left alone, describes Ulysses’ plan: Greek warriors have been hidden in the horse, and, provided Sinon can by deception persuade the Trojans to drag the horse into Troy, the city can be attacked from inside and out. Sinon’s lies are, after some initial distrust, accepted by Priam and the horse is pulled into Troy. The Trojans, thinking that they have won and that the Greeks have gone home, celebrate. Soon they are drunk and exhausted and fall asleep, whereupon Sinon gives the signal to the Greeks to attack. The fleet returns and the soldiers in the horse emerge into sleeping Troy. In the great battle which follows almost all the Greek and Trojan soldiers are killed. But Zeus steps in and Menelaus, Ulysses, Helen and Ilus survive to lead a final chorus about the futility of war.