Ion (2000, rev. 2003) 120'

Opera in 4 scenes and a Prologue

Libretto by: DAVID LAN, after Euripides

Soloist(s): 4 Sopranos, 3 Mezzo Sopranos, Contralto, Tenor, 2 Baritones, Bass

Orchestration: 1(pic,afl,bfl)1(ca)2(bcl:cbcl)1/2200/perc/

Commissioned by: Aldeburgh Festival and Almeida Opera

Dedicated to: Bill Casey

Language: English

Availability: Published by Novello & Co. Ltd., London

First performance:

- Almeida/Aldeburgh Opera, conducted by David Parry, with Stage Direction by Stephen Pimlott and Design by Alison Chitty. The presentation was semi-staged with Narrator, June 2000,

First Full Performance - Music Theatre Wales, in a co-production with Opéra National du Rhin and the Berliner Festwochen, with 19 performances from September to December 2003.

Conductor Michael Rafferty
Director Michael McCarthy
Designer Simon Banhams
Lighting Ace McCarron

Ion and Creusa in the Music-Theatre Wales Production of Param Vir's ION 2003

Read interview with Jonathan Reekie


Ion is the story of a mother’s pain and grief, of a son lost and found and a timeless quest for truth, honesty and identity. Creusa, daughter of the King of Athens, searches for her abandoned son, the issue of an illicit liaison with Apollo. Accompanied by the women who are all too ready to rail against the injustices served upon their mistress, Creusa seeks guidance from the oracle, only to be cheated once again. Unwittingly she tries to kill the child she once left to die; in revenge, he attempts to kill her. Mother and son are eventually revealed to one another through an eleventh-hour intervention by Apollo's priestess, the Pythia. The goddess Athene arrives, with her calming influence, to pacify the mortals, maintaining one further deception.


The opera takes place at Apollo's shrine at Delphi.

Ion, the young caretaker of the shrine, greets Creusa the queen of Athens. Childless, she has come with her husband Xuthus to ask the oracle if she will ever give birth. She also has another motive. Years before she had been impregnated by the god Apollo. Terrified of the consequences, she abandoned the child. Now she believes that her infertility is a punishment for her heartlessness. Full of self-recrimination and anger with Apollo, she wants to know if there is any chance that her long lost son is still alive.

Publicly Ion denies that the god would ever behave so irresponsibly. In his heart he knows that this story is all too likely.

Xuthus enters the shrine and is informed that the first person he sees as he leaves will be his son. He chances to see Ion, claims him, and encourages him to return with him to Athens. After much persuasion, Ion accepts that what the oracle pronounces must be true. Xuthus arranges a feast to celebrate his joy.

Accompanied by her old Servant, Creusa learns that Xuthus has been given a child while she is to get nothing. She is overwhelmed by grief. The Servant spurs her to take revenge. Together they lay plans to kill Ion.

At the feast, by a happy chance Ion discovers that his celebratory cup of wine is poisoned. When tortured, the Servant admits that Creusa is the culprit. Ion threatens to kill her but, just in time, the Pythia who tends the oracle, reveals the basket in which Ion, when an infant, was brought to the temple. Creusa recognises it as her own. Ion is her long lost son.

The goddess Athene arrives and insists that Apollo was in no way trying to cover up his own misdeeds. He had given Ion to Xuthus for his own good, to make him heir to a royal house.

Accepting his good fortune and deeply moved to be reunited with his mother, Ion sets out for Athens.

(Synopsis by David Lan)