As promised, now that I’ve posted my version, I’m going to talk about the 18th century original play. I’ve mentioned it before, a bit, but I’m going to go into more detail now. The title of the opera was “Achilles in Petticoats“, and it was performed in 1774 at Covent Garden, at the Theatre Royal. The copy of the libretto I have is a .pdf of a microfiche–microfilm?–something?–of the original souvenir booklet from the time, or something. So it has the cast list–all listed as “Mr. So-n-so” or “Miss Such-n-such”–and those horrible “long s” letters that look like “f”s and everything’s blurry like a bad old photocopy, and there’s dirt and obstructions, so sometimes it’s very hard to read.
Anyway, the interlibrary loan data on the front page of the .pdf provides the full data on the composer as the “author”, so I have his full info–Arne, Thomas Augustine, 1710-1778–but all I have on the lyricist is the “Mr. Gay” provided in the libretto itself. Oh, no, wait, it’s here in The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300-1990s (by Jane Davidson Reid) which first told me about this opera in the first place: “John Gay, 1685-1732, Achilles. Ballad opera (4 tunes attributed to Arcangelo Corelli). Libretto, composer. First performed 10 Feb 1733, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.” So Arne had altered (and presumably expanded) Gay’s original libretto, as well as changing the title.
Now, the most obvious changes in my version, apparent right from the start, are that I went with all-Greek names. The 18th century preferred Roman names. The cast list literally has “Ulysses” on it. (Seriously. Except it looks like it says “Ulyffes.) So “Ulysses” and “Ajax” regained their dignity as Odysseus and Aias. And I changed a few spellings while I was at it, preferring the Greek -os to Roman -us. (The -eus ending actually is Greek, however. Which is why it’s Odysseus, and not Odysseos. In case anyone was wondering about that.)
Next major change, just in the cast list, is that I replaced the queen’s nephew with Patroclos. In the course of “Achilles in Petticoats,” the queen engineers an engagement between her nephew and Pyrrha, and a jealous Ajax challenges her nephew to a duel over that engagement (which is fought entirely off-stage), yet her nephew, intent on sailing off to the war at Troy, has zero interest in Pyrrha. (He is, in fact, about the only character in the play immune to Achilles’ charms.) That doesn’t make sense and isn’t interesting or entertaining. So I thought that if the nephew was replaced with Patroclos, then we could restore the bisexuality of the original myths, and give all those events some meaning and impact because all parties involved are actually interested. Plus I thought that Patroclos is one of the few people who would stand a chance of surviving a duel with Aias for more than three seconds. Also, as my favorite Achaian, I’m always eager to include him. (May as well be honest, right?)
The final cast list change is the addition of Polyphonos, an aid to Lycomedes. (Well, also there’s the nurse Eurycleia, but…she’s a minor character, just a servant. And I removed Diomedes, who arrived at the end with “Ulysses,” but there was no need of him. It had just become the traditional view that Diomedes had gone with Odysseus to fetch Achilles from Scyros, but it was hardly a task requiring two, and there wasn’t dialog enough to justify the addition of another character there.) Polyphonos is mostly used as an aid to the death of Theseus sub-plot I introduced, but he’s also a good advisor to off-set the panderer imported from the original play.
Let’s talk about that sub-plot now, as we veer off into the changes I made to the plot. My main goals in changing the story of the play were two-fold: restore mythical accuracy (somewhat) and reduce sexism as much as possible (within the confines of the ancient Greek world it’s set in, at any rate). I still kept various story angles added to the myth in “Achilles in Petticoats,” such as Lycomedes and Ajax falling in love with Pyrrha, and the jealous queen trying to marry Pyrrha off to get her out of the way, and the scene where Lycomedes tries to “ravish” Pyrrha. (Little knowing that “Pyrrha” is actually a demi-god, and could have snapped him in half if he’d chosen.)