|The PHF’s 10th Anniversary Finale—The Loathly Lady Opera: April 1
March 31, 2009,
Volume 55, No. 27
The Loathly Lady, an original, sung-through comic opera conceived at the cusp of musical theater, will premiere April 1 for one night only at Irvine Auditorium. The premiere is the gala finale of the Penn Humanities Forum’s 2008-2009 10th-anniversary year.
The opera is based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” written around 1400, in which a wayward Arthurian knight has “a twelvemonth and a day” to discover what women want most—or die. During his quest, he meets a series of opinionated characters from the future, including Jane Austen’s Emma, Sheherezade, Shakespeare’s Titania, Eliza Doolittle, the Lady of Shallot and Virginia Woolf. Magic and psychoanalysis come to blows in the figures of Merlin and Freud. But, though everyone has an answer, it is not until a Loathly Lady appears that the knight discovers the truth, and that is far from the end of the story.
The opera score is by Paul Richards of the University of Florida, whose musical compositions have been performed across the U.S. and six continents. Words are by scholar-critic Wendy Steiner, of Penn, whose numerous books include The Scandal of Pleasure and Venus in Exile. Image projections are by the London-based artist John Kindness, whose solo exhibitions and public art have appeared in London, New York, Dublin and Belfast. Period-instrument expert John DeLucia developed the musical concept behind the opera.
“The Loathly Lady,” Dr. Steiner said, “is a romp through 600 years of ‘the woman question’ as well as 600 years of music.”
Scored for a full complement of period instruments, its stars are virtuosos in the early music field: Julianne Baird in the title role, three members of Anonymous 4 (Ruth Cunningham, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek), baritone Thomas Meglioranza, countertenor Drew Minter, tenor Jeffrey Behrens, the viola da gamba consort Parthenia and the winds, brass and percussion of Piffaro, the Renaissance Band. Gary Thor Wedow will conduct.
The premiere celebrates the 1999 founding of the Penn Humanities Forum, a center within Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences promoting both research and public lectures, art exhibitions and concerts. Tickets are $25 and $30, and student discounts are available. Additional information about the opera, including an animated film pilot advised by artist Joshua Mosley, is available at
www.english.upenn.edu/~wsteiner/loathlylady.htm or www.phf.upenn.edu or by calling Jennifer Conway at (215) 898-8220.