2005 – ANTiphony – ABOUT


Commissioned by W11 Opera in 1994 and revived in 2005. Also performed by other opera companies.

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 Philip Colman
Soloists Cigale, Gaston, Fly, Worker Queen, Warrior Queen, Committee Foreman, Brigadier, General, Station Announcer, Miss Tique
Groups Royal Entourage, Ladybirds, Committee, Worker Ants, Soldier Ants  
Orchestra Flute, Clarinet, Saxes, 2 Violins, Harp, Horn, Piano, 2 Keyboards, Drums, Percussion  

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.

Music and video

Visit the Video and Audio pages for clips from this production.


Down in the insect world, two neighbouring ant colonies live by conflicting sets of rules, but a pair of singing grasshoppers changes their lives for ever. Are they so very different from us?

The Worker Ants’’ Colony

Worker Ants congregate at Centipede Central Station at the beginning of another dull day. The Rush Hour Centipede transport has been cancelled so the Workers must walk to the colony’s factory, where they toil all day, bored out of their minds. But Gaston and Cigale, a pair of grasshopper buskers, sing them a song (I’ve Got a Song) which speeds their steps. Meanwhile at the factory the Worker Queen is making a state visit – and there are no workers to greet her! The Foreman and Works Committee are frantic (Disaster!) but at last the Worker Ants turn up, joyfully singing the Grasshoppers’ song. Singing at work is normally against the rules, but when the Queen sees how much faster the ants work with music, she sends for the Grasshoppers and offers them a permanent job.

This is observed by a Fly on the Wall, a spy for the rival colony next door.

The Soldier Ants’ Colony

The temperamental Warrior Queen and her War Cabinet are reviewing the troops: Her Majesty is disgusted by their lack of fighting spirit (Our Heart Isn’t in It). Just as she is making up her mind to have them all exterminated, the Fly buzzes in with a suggestion – why not hire the Grasshoppers to pep up the army? (and pay the Fly a management fee, of course…) The Queen agrees, but warns that she can take any sanctions she likes if it does not work (She’s a Queen).

Back at the Worker Colony, the musically motivated Worker Ants fill their winter stores ahead of schedule and earn themselves a holiday. But the Fly — aided by a gaggle of cute groupie Ladybirds — tempts Grasshopper Gaston away to the Soldier Ant Colony with promises of fame and fortune (We Love You). To suit the demands of his new, war-like audience, Gaston is persuaded to swap his violin for an electric guitar and literally change his tune to a song of hatred, not happiness.

Bad news arrives at the Worker Colony: the Soldier Ants are attacking! Cigale, still clutching Gaston’s violin, resolves to rescue her beloved from such ill-intentioned company… not that she misses him (Hardly at All)! Over at the Soldier Ant Colony, the War Cabinet sacks the Fly for being too greedy. Cigale sneaks into the camp to find Gaston despairing that his lust for fame has caused war — and destroyed his music.

The Soldier Ants attack the Worker Colony – but to the Warrior Queen’s fury, the Soldiers’ war mood fades whenever Gaston is not playing. She tries to force Gaston to play his song of hatred by taking Cigale hostage… but the spurned Fly has wreaked his own revenge by setting Cigale free. Gaston, reunited with his violin, sings a song of reconciliation (Give Life a Chance), joined by the Soldiers and Workers. A compromise deal between the two colonies is reached and everyone lives happily ever after – even the Fly!


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