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Stage Dragon: The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko – Grange Park Opera

Published on: 16 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 16 Jul, 2021

By Alice Fowler

The poisoning of a Russian dissident in London 15 years ago inspires Grange Park Opera’s new production, The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Postponed by a year due to the pandemic, the opera received its world premiere last night (Thursday, July 15) and its second performance will be on tomorrow. For those unable to see the show live, it will be streamed online at a later date to enjoy free of charge.

Composer Anthony Bolton started writing the opera back in 2016, working with librettist Kit Hesketh-Harvey – well known to Guildford audiences as the baddie in the Yvonne Arnaud’s annual pantomime.

Grange Park Opera has worked closely with Alexander’s widow, Marina, on their production. She says: “Over the last decade and a half, films, movies and books have been created covering my husband’s remarkable fate.

“Now however, as we approach the 15-year anniversary of Sasha’s death, he is to be remembered through a rather extraordinary medium, the music and compositions of Anthony Bolton’s opera.

“I believe this opera will be a unique and moving way to honour the life and death of my husband.”

Composer Anthony Bolton explains: “It has all the classic ingredients for an opera – power, politics, betrayal, love, jeopardy. I read his biography in 2008, was totally engrossed, extremely moved and thought this has to be an opera and I will make it happen.”

The opera depicts how, exiled and living in London, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko learns that his former colleagues are using his face for target practice.

A law is passed that allows Russian traitors to be killed anywhere in the world. A few months later, in November 2006, Litvinenko is poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 and dies.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards covering events in Russia that lead Litvinenko to seek exile, and his family’s life in Muswell Hill.

The cast includes James Laing as Head of the KGB, Stephan Loges as Boris Berezovsky, Adrian Dwyer as Alexander Litvinenko and Rebecca Bottone as his wife, Marina. The opera is sung in English, with some choruses in Russian.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey says: “It has been a remarkable privilege to have been involved as librettist for this new work. Although the events depicted are not recent, they remain vivid in all our memories and their consequences are becoming ever more urgent.”

This new production is GPO’s third world premiere in just three years. Wasfi Kani OBE, the company’s CEO, says: “I regard the staging of new operas as central to our contribution to the art form. With our opera house so close to London, there seems a real appetite from an inquisitive audience. We have three further new operas in the pipeline.”

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Responses to Stage Dragon: The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko – Grange Park Opera

  1. James Laing Reply

    July 16, 2021 at 1:06 am

    Hi, just to add a few corrections to the piece above. The role of Boris Berezovsky is played by Stephan Loges, and the Head of the KGB by James Laing. The premiere was last night Thursday 15th, with one final performance this Saturday (17th) 🙂

    Editor: Thank you for this correction. The article has been amended.

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