Cleopatra, the music

Published on Thursday 24 February, 2011

This article was originally published in February 2011.

Claude-Michel Schönberg

It takes no great leap of the imagination to visualise a woman undulating to music on a stage when the character embodied is Cleopatra.

In our collective unconscious, she is and will always remain the incarnation of the femme fatale – ‘she from whom there is no escape’: a seductress oozing sensuality; a destroyer at her most spellbinding; a woman of superior intelligence, manipulative but also touching as the mother of her children and of a whole nation whose culture, five thousand years ago, gave birth to our own civilisation. A powerful ruler and a woman in a man's world, she devoted her whole life to the protection of her family and her people.

And so my interest in Cleopatra, when David Nixon first mentioned her name in 2003, will come as no surprise; we had completed our first collaboration with Wuthering Heights. At the time, while the idea seemed brilliant, the scenario was still too vague in my mind.

After a long period of reflection, I came to understand the sheer brutality of the Queen of Egypt's life. All the men she loved met a violent end. She herself disposed of her own brother and committed suicide rather than capitulate. Such were the themes that fired my inspiration, as four pivotal chapters emerged, embodied by the Snake, Ptolemy, Caesar and Mark Antony, all intimately woven into her destiny.

I began to write a scenario. Then the music came forth, sombre, eerie, wild or amorous, luring me back to my keyboard again and again to create a work that David would want to choreograph, that John Longstaff would want to orchestrate, John Price Jones to conduct, the musicians to play and mostly, something the dancers would want to dance.

David's reaction to the demo was encouraging and so, with Patricia Doyle, we carried on shaping into a ballet the story of this young queen, who spoke more than five languages (the only one of a long line of Macedonian monarchs to master Egyptian), who ruled over one of the richest countries in the world and spent her short life fighting the emerging Roman Empire.

More than 2,000 years ago, this woman became an icon of her era and it is no wonder that she continues to fascinate and move us.

I have dedicated this score to my two daughters, Margot and Lily, with the hope that people will still talk about them in the year 4010.

Claude-Michel Schönberg
February 2011