Colourful, musical adaptation of Sophocles' last tragedy


Calliope Tsoupaki, Edzard Mik

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Following her acclaimed Lucas Passion in 2008, Calliope Tsoupaki returns to the Holland Festival. In collaboration with writer Edzard Mik, the Greek-Dutch composer presents a semi-scenic oratorio based on Sophocles’ tragedy Oidípous at Kolonos.

Tsoupaki and Mik concentrate on the original text, freeing themselves from the restraints of modern interpretations. Tsoupaki responds to the rich emotional range of the story with the colourful diversity of the baroque instrumentation. At the centre of the story is a long flashback to the moment that Oidípous kills his father unwittingly. Remembering this unfortunate, fateful act, his anger about his wretched life is finally resolved, leaving him in a state of resignation and giving him relief from his suffering.
 Programme Icoon

Background information

The acclaimed world premiere of Calliope Tsoupaki's Lucas Passie (St. Luke's Passion) at the Holland Festival 2008 was one of the highlights for Pierre Audi - who, incidentally, was responsible for the mise-en-espace - in his 10 year tenure as artistic director at the Holland Festival. The Greek-Dutch composer Tsoupaki has a completely unique musical idiom, combining elements from contemporary Western music with the Greek Orthodox tradition. She blends East and West in a contemplative, spiritual unity which is deeply personally motivated and at the same time has universal significance. Audi is delighted to have her back at the 2014 festival, his tenth and last edition as artistic director, again performing a world premiere. Tsoupaki's Lucas Passie was a decidedly religious piece, based on the bible and on Greek Orthodox liturgy, but at the same time the dynamic part of Christ was rooted in the tragedies from ancient Greece. Oidípous, a semi scenic oratorio based on Sophocles’ Oidipus te Colonus, connects directly with this tradition. The oratorio is performed by the Dutch Bach Society (Nederlanse Bachvereniging) led by Jos van Veldhoven. Tsoupaki has written for non-Western instruments before, in combination with as well as without European instruments, so this new venture into the realm of historical instruments appears to be another phase in her search for an open, transparant and living sound.

Having worked with Tsoupaki on Dark in 2002, writer Edzard Mik developed his concept for Oidípous in collaboration with the composer. In his novels Mik has adopted themes which spring from Ancient Greek tragedy and mythology. Laatste Adem (2001) is a work which touches on the myth of Orpheus; Bleke Hemel (2007) implicitly deals with the tragedy of Antigone; Mont Blanc (2012) can be interpreted as a twist on the Oedipus myth; and also his most recent work Waar de zee begint (Where the sea begins), which will come out in September 2014, contains various references to Greek tragedy. 

Sophocles' tragedy Oidipus te Colonus is a rather static play and difficult to perform. It can be summarised as a long, angry rant by the old and blind Oedipus, who curses his sons and bemoans the miserable life that has befallen him. The miraculous thing is that his bitterness seems to eventually give him religious relief – at the end, although he is blind, he enters the woods without any help and is accepted into the underworld.

Mik and Tsoupaki have attempted to breathe lighter air into their oratorio. In the adaptation of the text – which is in Greek, Tsoupaki's mother tongue – as well as in the composition, they have tried to free the tragedy of its excessive stress on individual responsibility and the subsequent personal tension and drama.


Tsoupaki gives her three singers multiple roles, which also used to be the custom in the tragedy performances in ancient times. All the leading and supporting roles were performed by male actors. Using masks allowed them to perform multiple roles. In order to add an extra dramatic layer, they also make up the chorus. The vocal lines vary from static monologue to dynamic dialogue, with theatrical movement incorporated. As Tsoupaki loves the warm sound of historical instruments and because the interpretative approach of baroque musicians suits her music, she has chosen to work exclusively with baroque instruments on Oidípous.



Born in Piraues in Greece, Calliope Tsoupaki (1963) has lived and worked predominantly in Amsterdam for more than 20 years. Tsoupaki studied piano and music theory at the Hellinikon Conservatory in Athens and composition with Yannis Ioanithis. She followed summer courses with Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez and she took part in the Internationale Ferienkurse in Darmstadt. From 1988 until 1992 she studied composition under Louis Andriessen and electronic music under Gilius van Bergeijk at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. Tsoupaki has composed music for a variety of musicians and ensembles, including the Nederlands Saxofoonkwartet, Orkest De Volharding, the Xenakis Ensemble, the Nieuw Ensemble, the Greek Metropolitan Choir and Asko|Schönberg. She has been commissioned by, amongst others, the Greek national broadcasting organisation, Dutch broadcaster NTR's Zaterdagmatinee, the Holland Festival and the Dutch fund for composition Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst.

Compositions of Tsoupaki were performed at the International Gaudeamus Music Week in 1991 and 1993, as well as at the renowned Festival Nieuwe Muziek in Middelburg in the Netherlands, the Malta International Arts Festival, the Focus Festival in New York, the Blockflöten Symposium Calw in Germany and at various editions of the Holland Festival. In 1996, her composition Sappho's tears (1990) was selected at the 43rd International Rostrum of Composers. Her chamber opera Vita Nova premiered in 2004 at the Korzo Theater in The Hague and her Lucas Passie at the Holland Festival in 2008. In 2010, the Holland Festival premiered another of her works, Greek Love Songs. In 2012, at the invitation of the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (Netherlands Wind Ensemble) she composed Maria, combining classical and folk music traditions related to the veneration of the Virgin Mary. Calliope Tsoupaki teaches composition at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.


Born in Groningen in 1960, the writer Edzard Mik lives in Amsterdam with his wife, the composer Calliope Tsoupaki. Mik studied law and public administration at Groningen University. From 1986, he has been working as a writer and a journalist, writing about art, architecture, theatre and literature in Vrij Nederland and NRC Handelsblad. Since 1990 he has published interviews with internationally renowned architects for the architecture magazine Archidea. Edzard Mik was an editor at the literary magazine De Gids and advisor to the Dutch Mediafonds and Mondriaanfonds. In September this year, his new novel Waar de zee begint (Where the sea begins) will be published – about a love affair between a Dutch banker and the daughter of a Greek art dealer in Athens. His previous two novels, Goede tijden (2011) and Mont Blanc (2013) were longlisted for the Libris Prize for Literature. His other novels are De bouwmeester (1995), Yak (1996), Schaduwdagen (1998), Laatste adem (2001), De wachters (2004) and Bleke Hemel (2007). Edzard Mik wrote the librettos for the music theatre productions Dark (2002, ZT Hollandia) and ABRIXAS (2004, Stichting Loos).

Jos van Veldhoven studied musicology at the Rijksuniversiteit in Utrecht (now Utrecht University) and choral and orchestral conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague. He has been the conductor and artistic director of the Netherlands Bach Society (Nederlandse Bachvereniging) since 1983. Always combining tradition with adventure, over the years literally hundreds of his programmes have made a huge impression in the Netherlands and far beyond. Under his direction, the Netherlands Bach Society has recorded an impressive CD series of Bach’s major works and given concert tours in Europe, the United States and Japan. Jos van Veldhoven repeatedly attracts attention with performances of ‘new’ repertoire in old music.
For more than 90 years now, the Dutch Bach Society (Nederlandse Bachvereniging) has been touching the souls of music lovers in a deeper way. It all began in 1921, with a plan to perform Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion in the Grote Kerk (Big Church) in Naarden. Purposely in a church, as an anti-pole to Willem Mengelberg’s performances in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. Throughout the years, the Bach Society developed into a leading ensemble with a flexible core. With his innovative programme choices and thorough research, artistic director Jos van Veldhoven continues to shed new light on the work of Bach and his contemporaries. The ensemble still plays the St. Matthew’s Passion in the Grote Kerk in Naarden every year. Each season, it gives some 50 concerts throughout the entire Netherlands. Last year, the ensemble was a guest in various European cities and made concert trips to the United States and Japan.


Calliope Tsoupaki
Edzard Mik
musical direction
Jos van Veldhoven
Christof Hetzer
Pierre Audi
Bernd Purkrabek
Marcel Beekman, tenor
Nora Fischer, soprano
Harry van der Kamp, bass
performed by
Nederlandse Bachvereniging
Holland Festival
with support by
Fonds Podiumkunsten, Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds

'… the gift Tsoupaki has to write melodies which develop completely organically, yet always manage to surprise.'

de Volkskrant

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