Premiere SPARTACUSAram Khachaturian
Co-production with the Ballet of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb
As part of the program K-HNK: Konzorcij hrvatskih nacionalnih kazališta (“Consortium of Croatian National Theatres”)
The ballet Spartacus is one of the best-known works by Aram Khachaturian, a famous composer from the first half of the 20th century who often evoked Armenian folk music in his works. This piece follows the exploits of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt against the Romans that was known as the Third Servile War, the Gladiator War or, as according to Plutarch, the War of Spartacus, which was the last in a series of unrelated and unsuccessful slave revolts against the Roman Republic. This final uprising of Spartacus was the only one to directly threaten the heart of the Republic, but the ballet story takes considerable liberties in its portrayal of the historical record. Khachaturian composed Spartacus in 1954, and was awarded the Lenin Prize for the work the same year. The first performance was at the Kirov Theater in Leningrad (today the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg) in 1956, with an unconventional choreography by Leonid Jakobson that went beyond all canons of classical ballet and remained in the repertoire for several years. The work went on to be performed twice by the Ballet of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, in 1958 with choreography by Igor Moiseev and in 1968 with choreography by Yuri Grigorović, the first production to bring the ballet its great popularity.
The performance lasts approximately two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission.
The ballet starts with a Roman soldier playing the ancient instrument Cornu, used in the Roman wars or at the Circus arena games where gladiators fought for life and death. The 12 People in Black, symbolise the crowd hungry for the shedding of blood and more importantly death. After a few fights, Spartacus fights the last Gladiator, a strong man called Oenomaus. At the end of the fight Spartacus decides not to kill Oenomaus. Sulla, the Roman Emperor enters with his wife Valeria. At first sight Valeria becomes very interested in Spartacus and asks Sulla to give Spartacus and Oenomaus their freedom back. Sulla points his thumb up and the crowd cheers for Spartacus who receives his life back. Gladiator Oenomaus thanks Spartacus for saving his life and they become friends. Politician Catilina, who was watching the games with Crassus wins money from betting on Spartacus. He goes to Spartacus to tell him of his winnings and asks him to join him for a drink at the Taverna Libutina. Meanwhile, Valeria became seriously interested in Spartacus, but so did courtesan Eutibide, who is fascinated by this great fighter and man of strength. Eutibide sends Metrobius to spy on Spartacus to find out more about him. Spartacus is deeply angry and laments about all the injustice of the gladiators that have to kill for the entertainment of the rich. He decides to revolt.
Spartacus goes with Oenomaus and Catilina to the taverna. Together they initiate a plan of an uprising against the regime in Rome. By chance, after many years Spartacus meets Mirza, his sister, that is owned by a slave owner, a patrician in Rome. He tries to buy her freedom back but does not have enough money. Catilina tries to help, but neither does he have enough money in his pocket. He gets the idea to meet with Valeria later on who may help to buy Mirza for her house and help him.
SLAVE ROAD AND SLAVE MARKET
Many suffering slaves arrive to the slave market. Valeria comes to buy a few slaves for her house. She meets Catilina who convinces her to also buy Mirza, the sister of Spartacus. Spartacus shortly sees Valeria. They look at each other with strong curiosity. Valeria is leaving, carried on a litter by the slaves to Sulla’s house. Metrobius meets Eutibide again. She pays him and orders him to keep following Spartacus.
SULLA’S GARDEN, ROMAN TREE
Spartacus becomes a gladiator teacher at Sullas’s house and Mirza, his sister works peacefully for the kind Valeria. Young gladiators are talking of the great Spartacus and the plans for an uprising revolution against the Roman regime. With high admiration they agree on Spartacus to lead them as their leader. His favourite is a young gladiator Artorix, who became later his best friend. Mirza comes to tell Spartacus that Valeria wants to meet him. Spartacus meets Valeria and they both fall passionately in love. Metrobius witnesses their affair and reports all to Eutibide. Eutibide gets very jealous and writes a letter to Emperor Sulla and husband of Valeria to revenge.
SULLA’S HOUSE, ROMAN BATH THERMAE, FESTIVITY OF LUPERCALIA
Inside Sulla’s house we witness an event of the high Roman society. It is the celebration of Lupercalia. Metrobius rushes into the house and tries urgently to deliver Eutibide’s letter about Valeria cheating on Sulla with Spartacus. But Sulla is not interested in work that day, nor reading letters and asks Metrobius to drink and celebrate with him and his guests. The actor Metrobius does not hesitate and takes a goat mask from an actor playing Faun and begins a scene of deprivation with Sulla and the guests. Many guests join in, and the scene escalates into an orgy. Sulla is enjoying the presence of Metrobius and they both forget about Eutibide’s letter. Now, drunk Sulla, the man of the house, orders more entertainment. He orders the gladiators from his gladiators’ school to fight in front of his guests for life and death. Young gladiators with Artorix start to fight. Sulla and all the guests are loudly enjoining their new entertaining show. Spartacus rushes into the room. He is shocked to see the fight as he does not want Artorix and his students to get killed. Sulla gets very angry and orders Spartacus to fight too. Valeria fearing for Spartacus’ life, rushes in and orders Sulla, her husband to stop this bloody entertainment and dissolves the dinner party. Everybody leaves. Drunk Sulla, disrespects Valeria and throws her to the floor, asking the harpies and the actor to continue to play and dance. Sulla gets involved in the dance, but his old heart gives up and he suddenly gets a heart attack and dies. Metrobius, Sulla’s secret lover rushes to the dead body and cries. At this point Eutibide’s letter about Valeria and Spartacus’s affair is found by Valeria’s cousin Messala. He is unpleasantly surprised by the content in the letter. Valeria and Spartacus meet. They were both very scared for each other. Valeria hears Messala coming into the room and hides Spartacus. Messala cannot believe that Valeria is having an affair with Spartacus. He tells her that she is shaming their family name. But Valeria refuses to take the criticism and argues for the woman’s right to love and speaks very highly about Spartacus. Angry Messala leaves. Spartacus comes back again, but he must leave now to meet with the gladiators to organise the uprising. Valeria gives Spartacus a medallion not to forget her and lets him go.
BACK AT TAVERNA LIBUTINA AND CAPUA
The drunk actor Metrobius is going back to the taverna. He finds a quiet place and falls asleep below the roof of the taverna. Spartacus secretly meets with other gladiators in the taverna too. They decide to meet later in Capua, where they will begin their revolution with many other gladiators. Hidden Metrobius wakes up and hears the secret plan. Spartacus, Oenomaus and Artorix leave. Metrobius runs out to tell Messala, a respected politician in Rome, who immediately organises Roman soldiers to arrest all the gladiators in Capua. In Capua, the Roman guards of the gladiator school heard of the possible uprising of the gladiators and slaves and locked all the gladiators’ weaponry. The gladiators are nervous as they will not be able to get weapons for their first battle. Spartacus and Oenomaus manage to come, spark the beginning of the revolution and with a smaller group manage to escape the walls of Capua. They hide on the Vesuvius Mountain with all kinds of weapons gathered from everywhere.
Spartacus together with gladiators and slaves is now hiding at the top of the volcanic mountain Vesuvius. In the camp everyone is preparing for the upcoming war. At sunrise the camp is surprised by the first Roman army approaching. But from a higher place on the mountain, Spartacus has a clear advantage and wins his first battle by throwing mountain stones down and destroys the army.
In Rome they did not take the gladiators’ uprising that seriously yet, but other cities started to worry slowly. The Senate appoints Hortensius Messala as the new general to fight the gladiators’ uprising. The cousin of Valeria, together with a new army, marches to surround the mountain.
Spartacus has no free road to escape. Spartacus and the whole camp descent silently down the mountain, surprise Messala’s army from behind and win another battle. Messala is defeated but left free to run.
THE TENT, AT THE CAMP OF GLADIATORS
People hear of Spartacus’s success and many around the country start to join the revolution. Mirza, Spartacus’s sister and surprisingly also Eutibide join Spartacus’ army. Rich Eutibide donates her wealth to his army and asks Spartacus to take her as his assistant. When the shy young gladiator Artorix sees Mirza for the first time, he instantly falls in love with her. Although Mirza falls in love with Artorix too, she, as a former slave who was abused and forced as a slave to become a courtesan, does not feel pure enough to return his love and refuses Artorix’s love.
Day by day Spartacus’s army is getting bigger and bigger and wins battle after battle. Many new Roman commanders are appointed but many more die. Spartacus becomes a strong leader of his army and is celebrated as a great commander. But inside himself, he is sad, as he craves for Valeria’s love.
THE TENT, AT THE CAMP
At night Eutibide enters Spartacus’s tent. She desires him extremely and confesses of her affection. Spartacus tells her of his love for Valeria. Eutibide is furious and speaks rudely of her. He gets angry and dismisses her. Spartacus secretly takes his horse and rides away to see Valeria. Eutibide craves for revenge. Her plan is to be Oenomaus’s assistant now and manipulate him against Spartacus. She has to make him believe she loves him.
VALERIA’S GARDEN, ROMAN TREE
Spartacus meets Valeria again and they passionately make love. Valeria introduces their small daughter Postumia. Spartacus is touched by seeing his beautiful small daughter for the first time. In the morning Spartacus must leave again. Valeria feels that this might be the last time she sees him.
IN ROME, CELEBRATION OF SATURNALIA
Whole Rome is celebrating Saturnalia. At the temple of Saturn, Metrobius is finishing the sacrifices in honour of God Saturn and releases some slaves to feast. Parties begin in every street of the city. Artorix and Oenomaus disguised as jugglers go into the city to look for Catilina (a Roman politician that desired to change the system) to ask for help and to join Spartacus’s army in the war for freedom of the slaves. Artorix finally finds Catalina, but Catalina refuses to help the gladiators with their plan to fight against Rome. On the way home, Artorix realises that he is followed by the curious actor Metrobius. He hides and waits for him. The drunken man realises they are gladiators from the army of Spartacus and Artorix stabs Metrobius with a dagger and escapes.
THE TENT, AT THE CAMP
Eutibide and other commanders meet at a long table inside Spartacus’s tent. Commanders now want to attack Rome directly and win the war. Spartacus knows that they are not ready yet and refuses this crazy plan. Eutibide manages to plot with Oenomaus the separation of his legion to march alone to Rome and fight.
Oenomaus with his legion leaves for the next battle, but they all are soon surprised by the Roman army and brutally slaughtered. Eutibide lies in the middle of the endless battlefield of dead corpses and moans. A mystical dream with a White Horse is materialised. Oenomaus bleeding on the ground asks her for water and a last kiss believing in her love. She refuses and rudely ignores him. Oenomaus realises her malefic nature and dies. She sees a white horse, takes him and wants to leave. But the battle was coming back to this place. Spartacus was winning again. So Eutibide took the horse, killed it and lay down under the horse’s leg to pretend that she is dead. Spartacus wins the battle but painfully finds out that his friend Oenomaus is dead. Eutibide pretends to be injured. Spartacus believes Eutibide and helps her. Eutibide immediately starts her next plan of manipulating Artorix. But Artorix is not fooled. Spartacus and the others throw Eutibide out of their army. She finally leaves the camp but goes to join general Crassus with his Roman army against Spartacus.
THE PREMONITION OF DEATH
Losing his best friend Spartacus enters a depressive state of mind and doubts his victory against the Romans. For the first time he feels his death is near. We see in his dream suffering corpses screaming in pain.
MARCUS LICINIUS CRASSUS, THE ROMAN POWER
Crassus is appointed by the Senate as the new leader of the Roman army against the gladiators’ uprising. Spartacus manages to escape to the seacoast, arranging with corsairs to transport his army to Sicily for reinforcement. But corsairs do not keep their promise. Spartacus and his army that is now getting smaller and smaller, are on the edge of their possibilities. Eutibide plans her revenge further. Now her wish is to kill Mirza the sister of Spartacus, but she gets caught in her own trap and is killed by her own Roman soldiers. Crassus finally catches up and stops Spartacus. The last big fight between Crassus and Spartacus unfolds! Spartacus is fighting alone with Artorix the entire Roman army. Unfortunately, Artorix is killed. Spartacus fighting against so many, was not looking like a human anymore and was fighting like a ferocious beast. He is killed too by many spears that struck him. He drops to his knees and whispers “Va…le…rie” and dies. Mirza finds dead Artorix and decides to die with him. She thrusts a dagger into her throat, and they die together. Valeria receives the last letter from Spartacus. She reads it, kisses the letter and cries in devastation. Their daughter Postumia is next to her.
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