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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
Atwood gives opera approval
Margaret Atwood
Atwood's themes came from real instances of totalitarianism
Novelist Margaret Atwood has told the BBC of her pleasure at seeing her novel The Handmaid's Tale turned into an opera.

The opera is currently showing at the English National Opera, which is hoping it will be a big hit.

It concerns a future society in America after a nuclear war, where Christian fundamentalists have gained power.

"Opera is a form that lends itself to inner monologue in a way that film doesn't," Atwood told the BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"This opera uses that ability very brilliantly."

Perfect adaptation

She said that this was key to maintaining the important themes of the book, much of which was based on real totalitarian regimes.

"I had lots of [regimes] in mind, and we have had lots of them throughout history," she said.

"For instance biological wives - having more than one woman with whom you're having children - Hitler did those.

"Stealing other people's children and raising them in your own house was done not only by Hitler but by the Argentinian generals.

"Enforced childbirth was done by Romania."

Handmaid's Tale
The ENO are hoping the Handmaid's Tale will be a hit
Danish composer Poul Ruders, who first had the idea of creating an opera from the 1985 bestseller, told the programme that he had never seen anything more perfectly suited for adaptation.

"I was not even halfway through before it dawned on me that I had possibly the ultimate operatic subject in my hands," Ruders said.

"Lots of processions, public executions, love, hope, betrayal, sex, violence, you name it - everything that ought to be in an opera."


Meanwhile the opera's director, Phyllida Lloyd, told The Ticket that even though the book was almost 20 years old, it resonated now more than ever.

"This opera could not be more relevant," she said.

She added when it had first been produced in Copenhagen two years ago, a short film was shown beforehand detailing the fictional events in America that led to the state of the novel.

She said that tape had included mock-up footage of the Statue of Liberty and the White House being bombed.

"Now we look at that tape and think 'my God, how chilling that is'," she said.

But she added that although the book was very much a nightmare vision of the future, there was still an undercurrent of hope that she hoped audiences would pick up on.

"What we show in our twilight world of this house is that the household in which everybody seems to be behaving in a robotic cold, ordered way is not exactly what it seems," she stressed.

"What feel like these robots are in fact beating hearts full of lust and panic and humour."

Handmaid strikes a chord
04 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
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07 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
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20 Mar 03  |  Entertainment
Troubled opera 'must improve finances'
21 Mar 03  |  Entertainment

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