Skip to main content

ALERT: KPBS Radio is undergoing scheduled upgrade work which may result in temporary signal outages.

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Preview: ‘Murder in the Cathedral’

Opera Makes West Coast Premiere

The murder of archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 has been portrayed on stage and screen. And it's the basis of the rarely performed opera, "Murder in the Cathedral," making its west coast premiere here in San Diego. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando gives us a preview.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the opera, "Murder in the Cathedral."


The murder of archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 has been the subject of both the stage (plays by both T.S. Eliot and Jean Anouilh) and screen ("Becket" starring Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II). It’s also the basis of the rarely performed opera, “Murder in the Cathedral.”

T.S. Eliot’s verse drama “Murder in the Cathedral” used the real life murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket to explore issues of politics, religion, and an individual’s opposition to authority -- issues that still resonate today. He wrote it in the 1930s as Fascism was on the rise in Central Europe. In 1958, it became the basis for Ildebrando Pizzetti’s opera. The opera focuses on the last month of Becket's life as he defends the church against King Henry II's attacks. The two men were once friends but grew apart as Becket devoted himself to religion and Henry to politics. The King, enraged by what he saw as an act of betrayal by his former friend, reportedly let slip the exclamation, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest." This prompted four knights to kill Becket, who was soon canonized as a Saint.

This Saturday “Murder in the Cathedral” receives its West Coast premiere at the San Diego Opera. A key element is a female chorus says director Ian Campbell.

"The chorus will never leave the stage, the women will always be there because at the end of their first scene they say we are condemned only to watch. They know they can’t do anything about the events that they have a premonition about and since they are condemned to watch I’m going to have them watching."

Production designer Ralph Funicello (who frequently designs sets for The Old Globe Theatre) creates a set that captures the epic and impressive scale of Canterbury Cathedral. There are stunning stained glass windows, massive pillars, and plenty of steps to provide the chorus with multiple levels of observation. He says designing for opera is different than designing for a stage play.

"As I have always said, you design for the music in an opera. I mean there’s the story and the plot and all that but what really keys in to what the scale and the emotional feeling of the design really comes more from the music than anything."

“Murder in the Cathedral” runs through April 7th at the Civic Theater.

Companion viewing: "Becket," "Pan's Labyrinth," "A Man For All Seasons"


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Your curated weekly guide to local arts and culture in San Diego, from Arts Calendar Editor Julia Dixon Evans, delivered to your inbox every Thursday afternoon.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.