Say you’re going to write a libretto for an animated opera, one based on a very unlikely premise: an English professor’s sudden urge to create an animated opera. We will call her the Learned Dame. Her opera is called The Loathly Lady, and unlike yours it is a serious work of art, based on a tale that is meaty, timeless, and structurally tight as a lute string: Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Even in its component parts (libretto, score, illustrations), The Loathly Lady dazzles; in a seven-minute pilot film, it—well, sings. An irreverent wit infuses the storyline, which features a cast ranging from Queen Guenevere and Merlin to Jane Austen’s Emma and Virginia Woolf to Eliza Doolittle and Sigmund Freud. The animated images are deliciously clever, and the music is a rich blend of 14th-century Ars Nova and more modern strains, using early instruments and a range of operatic octaves. The Loathly Lady is not a finished work of art, however. To become one, it needs a key element, one often found in fairy tales and myths.

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The Wife, The Lady, and the Book of Dames
by Samuel Hughes
Photography by Candace diCarlo

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When an English professor set out to create an animated opera based on “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” she decided to bring in some very un-Chaucerian characters. That’s when the real fun began. By Samuel Hughes

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Last modified 03/01/07