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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 16:15 GMT
Opera house unveils Sophie's Choice
Sophie's Choice the opera
Sophie faces an impossible decision over the life of her children
Sophie's Choice - based on the best-selling novel by William Styron - has had its world première at the Royal Opera House in London.

Tickets for the five-night production are sold out, encouraged by subsidised prices, public familiarity with the story and the involvement of top musical talent.

Conductor Sir Simon Rattle, National Theatre director Trevor Nunn and composer Nicholas Maw are all involved. Maw had the original idea for the opera, which he also wrote.

He closely followed the narrative of Styron's 1979 story of a Polish Holocaust survivor involved in a love triangle.

Sir Simon Rattle
Sir Simon Rattle is an acclaimed conductor

It was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1982 starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.

Maw decided to make an opera of the story after being moved by the film. He then read Styron's book.

"I was overwhelmed by the subject matter," Maw said. "From the beginning I thought this would make the most extraordinary subject for an opera.

"I felt that music was a legitimate way of dealing with these grand tragic feelings which are still very much a part of our national, international, personal, emotional and psychological experience."

Depression

But it took Maw more than 10 years to bring the work to the Royal Opera House - which initially turned him down.

His work is now considered the highlight of the Covent Garden venue's new season.

Nicholas Maw
Nicholas Maw composed the opera

American author Styron was not involved in the project, but he will be attending the première.

Styron's other novels include Lie Down in Darkness, about a young Southern woman who kills herself.

And The Confessions of Nat Turner was based on the history of a black rebel slave and won Styron the Pulitzer Prize.

Years of clinical depression have prevented Styron from writing more fiction but he did write a memoir, Darkness Visible, about his condition.

When Sophie's Choice was first published, Styron was criticised for making a form of entertainment from a subject as sensitive as the Holocaust.

He also angered many in the Jewish community for making his heroine a Catholic.

Styron maintains that the tragedy of the concentration camps is a global issue with repurcussions for every section of society.

He adds that the best way to deal with tragedy is to confront it.

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