1,791 years ago this month, the Roman emperor Elagabalus was assassinated while hiding in a latrine. The Gotham Chamber Opera will commemorate the occasion with the first of six performances of Eliogabalo, a seventeenth century opera about the emperor by the Italian composer Francesco Cavalli.
Elagabalus, who reigned from 218 to 222 AD, was only eighteen years old when he was killed. Yet in that brief period he distinguished himself as perhaps the single most debauched and maniacal emperor in Rome's history. The anonymous author of the Augustan History mentions, among a laundry list of depravities, that at various points Elagabalus prostituted himself, attempted to divine the future using the intestines of children he had sacrificed, and, in general, “did nothing but send out agents to search for those who had particularly large organs and bring them to the palace in order that he might enjoy their vigor.” He was also said to have used an early version of the whoopee cushion at dinner parties.
Though Cavalli was the most popular composer of opera in the years following Monteverdi, Eliogabalo was never performed during his lifetime, and did not have its world premiere until 1999. The Gotham Chamber Opera’s production, which features South African countertenor Christopher Ainslie in the title role, will be staged, appropriately, at the Box, a burlesque theater on the Lower East Side.
Performances on March 15, 19, 21, 23, 26, and 29. All performances begin at 8 PM. For more information, please visit gothamchamberopera.org.
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