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The Story of 'Lysistrata'

ACT ONE: In Mark Adamo's opera, the character Aristophanes dubbed Lysistrata goes by the name Lysia, and she's as much a jealous lover as she is a devoted pacifist.

The action begins with an invocation by the Three Furies. They urge the audience to pay attention to this story of a woman, a man and two armies at war.

The Furies vanish, and we see women marching on an Athenian street. Kleonike is leading the anti-war demonstration, and she explains to Myrrhine how the war started: It had something to do with disputed land.

From her window, Lysistrata — or Lysia — tells the women to go elsewhere. She's scheduled to meet privately wtih Nico, an Athenian general, supposedly to discuss peace. Kleonike is suspicious, but leads the women away anyway.

It turns out that Nico and Lysia are actually lovers. When they're alone, Lysia tempts him. She demands to know if he has kept his promise to resign his commission and devote more time to her. He explains why he can't, and she explodes. Nico tries to get Lysia's mind off the dispute by blindfolding her, as a pretext for lovemaking. But the army's trumpets summon Nico to his station, and he goes — leaving Lysia frustrated once again. And this time, she vows revenge.

In the next scene, Nico's army prepares for battle. Myrrhine tells Lysia that all the money and weapons in the Acropolis are guarded only by men who were deemed unsuitable to serve as soldiers. Lysia hatches a plan, and urges the other women to meet at her house early the next day.

In the morning, her Athenian friends are surprised to find Lysia with a houseful of Spartan women. Lysia introduces the women of Athens to Lampito, wife of the Spartan general Leonidas. Lysia reveals her plan: The women will barricade themselves in the Acropolis and force the men to come to peace by withholding sex.

At first the Athenian women refuse. But when Lampito says the Spartan women will go along with it, the Athenians agree. Still, Kleonike is more than a little suspicious — she doesn't see how Lysia is going to be able to deny her affections to Nico. Lysia is evasive.

In the next scene, Nico finds his lieutenant, Kinesias, looking troubled. When Kinesias reveals the latest news, the two men race to the Acropolis with their army — only to find that the women have taken over the place. The Spartan army is already there and with both warring armies assembled, Lysia and the women announce their demands: If there's no peace, there will also be no sex.

ACT TWO: Weeks later, the soldiers are clearly frustrated. The Spartan Leonidas approaches the Athenian Nico to discuss the reasons for the ongoing war. Nico denies that he's just a follower. He says he's fighting on principle. Meanwhile, Kinesias, dreaming of his girlfriend Myrrhine, sneaks off to find her.

Inside the Acropolis, the women are also frustrated. In fact, they're about to give up. Kinesias approaches Myrrhine seductively. With Lysia's encouragement, Myrrhine stands firm, and Kinesias slinks off back to camp. By now the soldiers have had it. They plead with Nico to find a way out of their predicament, and he agrees to approach Lysia.

When the two meet, he and Lysia attack each other's politics. But it's clear they're still in love. Finally, they make a private arrangement. He will leave the army and come back to her if she ends the rebellion. Without consulting the other women, she agrees, and Nico departs.

Not knowing about Lysia's meeting with Nico, Kleonike and the other women praise Lysia for her selflessness, and rename her Lysistrata. (It's a name that Aristophanes made up — and translates, roughly, as "She Who Puts an End to War.") When Kleonike asks her to speak, Lysia can only stammer. Then the armies appear. Lysia, crowned by her followers, addresses the lover for whom she agreed to betray them. In a turnabout, much to Nico's dismay, she urges the women to stand their ground. She then introduces the men to Lampito, who is dressed — and just barely dressed — as the Goddess of Peace. On her body is a map of the disputed land.

Kleonike uses the beautiful Lampito to tease the men into considering a settlement. Prodded by Leonidas, Nico relents. But he also rejects Lysistrata. The crowd prepares for celebration while Lysistrata is grief stricken.

The festivities are in full swing, but as people drink they start to get surly. Leonidas and Kinesias start arguing about the land feud. Nico intercedes, but not in time. Leonidas and Kinesias kill each other.

Now it's the women who start calling for revenge, led by Lampito and Myrrhine. Kleonike prays to the gods, singing "Ares, Aphrodite, when will all this end?"

At that, like magic, Ares and Aphrodite appear. They take pity on the mortals, and resurrect Kinesias and Leonidas. The gods also offer some advice. Conflict, they say, is eternal, both in war and in love. They urge the Greeks to treasure peace when they have it — because sooner or later, it will surely disappear. Then the gods themselves vanish, and everyone joins in a hymn of thanks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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