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Profile: Paul Bentley
Paul Bentley was a participant or observer in the following events:
Margaret Atwood. [Source: Jean Malek]An opera version of the bestselling dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is premiered in Copenhagen, Denmark, which begins with a giant mock newsreel that shows various buildings, reportedly including the World Trade Center, being blown up. [Independent, 4/2/2003; Sander, 5/2003, pp. 10; Variety, 4/10/2018] The novel of The Handmaid’s Tale was written by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood and first published in 1985. [Reuters, 4/17/2017] The music for the operatic version of the story was written by Poul Ruders, a young Danish composer, who began work on it in 1996. [Stephen Johnson, 2001; Guardian, 3/22/2003] The libretto—the words sung in the opera—were written by the British actor and author Paul Bentley, and then translated into Danish by Ruders. [Classical Net, 2001; Guardian, 8/3/2001] Director Phyllida Lloyd and designer Peter McKintosh, who are also British, contributed to the opera, but Atwood was not involved. [Time, 4/3/2000; Guardian, 3/22/2003; Globe and Mail, 9/18/2004] The premiere, at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, is on March 6, 2000, and The Handmaid’s Tale will then be performed another seven times in Copenhagen. [Time, 4/3/2000; Guardian, 8/3/2001; Opera Canada, 9/22/2004]
Opera Is Based on a Fundamentalist Group Taking Power - The story of The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the future and based on the premise that, early in the 21st century, a fundamentalist religious group assassinated the president and all of Congress and seized power in the United States. The US was then reconstructed as a male-controlled totalitarian dictatorship called the Republic of Gilead. A strict moral code was enforced, with women being deprived of all rights. War and environmental havoc have caused widespread infertility, and some of the women who are still able to breed are enslaved as handmaids and forced to bear children for childless couples. [Guardian, 3/22/2003; Independent, 4/2/2003; New York Times, 5/14/2003]
Mock Newsreel Shows the Twin Towers Blowing Up - The opera begins with about a minute of fast-moving images—including video and stills—and headlines from the period that led up to the establishment of the Republic of Gilead. The footage depicts, among other things, a wrecked nuclear power station, tanks and guns, and piles of corpses. It shows fundamentalist troops invading the White House and blowing up the Statue of Liberty. It also shows the Twin Towers of the WTC blowing up, Atwood will later recall. These incidents are supposed to have happened in the year 2002, meaning the WTC is meant to have been blown up a year after it actually came down in the 9/11 attacks. [Stephen Johnson, 2001; Ruders, 2002, pp. xviii; Evening Standard, 4/3/2003; Variety, 4/10/2018] In light of what happens on 9/11, Lloyd will comment in 2003, “Now we look at that [mock newsreel] and think, ‘My God, how chilling that is.’” [BBC, 4/8/2003] Atwood will, in 2015, call the inclusion of the Twin Towers blowing up in the newsreel a “creepy thing.” [Sharp, 9/29/2015]
Images of the WTC Will Be Removed from a Later Version of the Opera - The opera will be a huge success in Denmark, with all eight performances selling out. [Guardian, 8/3/2001] A version of it sung in English will be performed in London, England, three years later. But, due to the actual destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11, the images of the WTC will have been removed from the mock newsreel at the start of the opera. [Independent, 4/2/2003; Evening Standard, 4/3/2003; Globe and Mail, 9/18/2004] “They did the opera again and they had to take [the images of the Twin Towers blowing up] out, because it was no longer in the future,” Atwood will comment. [Variety, 4/10/2018] The rest of the mock newsreel, though, will remain unchanged. [Independent, 4/2/2003]
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