The Oresteia: The Unmistakable Hero

Commentary: Redemption, writ large, in L.A. Opera’s divine ‘Omar’ The first part of Opera’s final production before their “indefinite hiatus and eventual shutdown” was not a traditional opera: not in a contemporary sense (the entire text did not appear in print until 2001) and not in a biblical sense, in which “good and evil” were so easily defined, as in “a good opera.” There was no good and no evil in the world, and as a consequence there was no clear contrast between “good and bad” that made the drama interesting—a theme that was later picked up by the Los Angeles Opera. Even the character of Omar (pronounced “Omar”, but which most opera fans think is “Mawr”).

Omar is the “unmistakable hero”, the one person in the opera who actually cares about justice and compassion. “A hero is somebody who acts courageously to do the right thing,” says Opera’s Artistic Director James Levine, as he introduces the opening words of “Omar’s Return.” Indeed, it is the only part of the opera that does not include the characters “acting courageously to do the wrong thing.” But while the heroes of the opera—the “gods” in Levine’s words—are usually heroic (and for the most part, good) and their actions righteous, they also frequently do the wrong things. Their actions are often motivated by their greed, but their greed may be used to right a wrong. “There’s no single, overarching character type,” says Levine. “It’s a little like real life, where sometimes individuals are on the wrong side of the law and sometimes are on the right side.”

At various points in The Oresteia, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and Greeks, have killed each other, and at various points in this opera, a bunch of Greeks are killed by Egyptians and a bunch of Egyptians are killed by Greeks. The Greeks are always at war with the Egyptians, and the Egyptians are always at war with the Greeks. And while the Egyptian kings are evil and greedy, they have, in essence

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