I became familiar with Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, through its horrible film adaptation, a numbingly unsubtle reproductive fascist farce. I guess in 1990, the only totalitarianism that director Volker Schlondorff could get people to accept is the East German kind.
Anyway, on the occasion of its premiere at the English National Opera, Atwood writes in the Guardian about allowing the Danish composer Poul Ruders to make an opera of it in the first place. One challenge turned out to be the lack of contractual precedent for adapting an opera from a living writer’s work.
Then there was the Danish and/or lawyerly cast of mind, an introspective one given to second thoughts, as in Hamlet. (“Whether ’tis prudenter in the contract to offer/ The perks and carrots of outrageous royalties/ Or to strike pen throughout a sea of clauses/ And screw the writer blind?”) But with the help of various agents we managed to cobble something together. I forget who got the T-shirt rights, but it wasn’t me.
That was 2000, and Atwood’s world–a fundamentalist takeover of the US government, a rollback of civil liberties, secret police with the all-seeing eye for a logo controlling the population through credit card surveillance–seemed like a liberal campfire story, best told with a flashlight under your chin. The Danes loved it, though. So did Time, which compared it to the Taliban. You may have to travel to the UK for this one; I don’t imagine it opening in the US for 2 or 6 years.
One upside: at least now we know it doesn’t look like East Germany.