Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and won an array of awards. In 2000, the Danish composer Poul Ruders decided to adapt this novel into an opera using the musical talents of librettist Paul Bentley. Poul Ruders had a challenge ahead of him when composing this opera as the story is full of tumultuous emotions and covers difficult subject matter.
Despite the obstacles that come with this kind of adaptation, Ruders stays as close as possible to the original story. So whether you’re a fan of the novel or new to the whole narrative, you’re bound to be swept away into the utopia that is the Republic of Gilead. Let’s dive right in and meet the characters.
The Handmaid whose story we follow is given the name Offred after she has passed through the Red Centre and has been indoctrinated as a Handmaid. This name is given to her as she ‘belongs’ to The Commander whose name is Fred so, her name is the words ‘of Fred’ joined together to show which house she belongs to.
Women who live in sin are taken to Red Centres where they are indoctrinated as Handmaids by Aunts and the Aunt in charge of the entire operation is Aunt Lydia.
The head of the household that Offred belongs to is run by The Commander. The Commander is to ritually inseminate Offred in the hope of her bearing their offspring. However, the plot takes a turn when The Commander realises he is developing feelings for Offred. His feelings alone are enough to break the rules but he also asks her to ‘kiss him like she means it’ which is forbidden.
Serena is the wife of The Commander and a former gospel singer. She encourages Offred’s illegal affair with Nick but turns her into the police when she realises that Offred has also been privately seeing The Commander.
Nick is a handyman and chauffeur to the Commander. He works in the house and after being encouraged to start an affair with Offred, they become secret lovers.
Moira is a friend of Offred who goes through the process of indoctrination at the Red Centre with her. Moira eventually manages to make her escape before the others graduate from the Red Centre.
Another friend of Offred’s is Ofglen, similarly named because she belongs to the household run by Glen. Oflgen and Offred become confidants and Oflgen tells Offred of the resistance movement and wants her to join.