The Loathly Lady

A Comic Opera
Based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”

 
Libretto
Wendy Steiner

Musical Concept: John DeLucia
Music
Paul Richards

Original Artwork: John Kindness
 
 


Contents


 


Concept

The Loathly Lady is an original comic work in three acts, conceived at the cusp between opera and musical theater.

The plot is based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” (c. 1400), in which a cruel knight must discover what women want most. The Loathly Lady’s knight meets a series of opinionated characters in the course of his questing—Sigmund Freud, Jane Austen’s Emma, Sheherezade, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare’s Titania, the Lady of Shalott.

When the knight is in his own medieval world, the music evokes the Ars Nova idioms of Chaucer’s day and is scored for early instruments (with modern substitutions indicated). When the knight encounters characters from other periods and cultures, the idioms and instrumentation shift accordingly.

In this comedy of male-female misunderstanding, magic and science come to blows in the figures of Merlin and Freud. Can we speak to each other across the gulfs of time and gender and world view? The answer is “perhaps,” and the process of finding out, we hope, will be a feast for the ears, the mind, and the heart.

 

 

Wendy Steiner
Librettist

Paul Richards
Composer

 
 


Dramatis Personae

Elf Queen / Maiden / Lady of Shalott / Loathly Lady.......................................Soprano

Knight...............................................................................................................Baritone

Queen Guenevere..................................................................................Mezzo-Soprano

Lady 1................................................................................................................Soprano

Lady 2................................................................................................................Soprano

Merlin......................................................................................................Counter-Tenor

Sigmund Freud......................................................................................................Tenor

Titania................................................................................................................Soprano

Oberon......................................................................................................Bass-Baritone

Sheherezade.......................................................................................................Soprano

Emma Woodhouse................................................................................Mezzo-Soprano

Eliza Doolittle...................................................................................................Soprano

Virginia Woolf..................................................................................................Soprano

Prologue/Echo.............................................................Female Chorus (SSA) or 3 Soli

Changeling Child, Courtiers, Supernatural Creatures......................Non-singing roles

 

Episode Summary

a pictureScene 1. The Prologue conjures up a magic tapestry filled with flowers and pixie musicians. Woven among them isan Elf Queen, who longs to enter the real world. She emerges from the tapestry as a Maiden, falls in love with a Knight, and suffers rape at his hands. Unable to understand his cruelty, she puts a curse on him: the Knight must understand the meaning of his crime or die.

Scene 2. Queen Guenevere and her ladies-in-waiting debate the Knight’s crime—Lady 1 hardened against all men, Lady 2 rather soft on them. The Queen puts an end to the quarrel by declaring that they will teach the Knight a lesson.

Scene 3. The Queen informs the Knight that his death sentence will be interrupted for a year and a day while he goes on a quest. At the end of that time, he must return with the answer to a question or die. The Queen holds a Chalice richly gleaming with jewels and gold on which this question is engraved in many languages: “What Do Women Want Most?”

Scene 4.
Merlin warns the Knight that it will not be easy to find the answer to the Queen’s question, since Sigmund Freud spent his whole career trying to do so without success. Merlin conjures Freud up from the future, and the great psychoanalyst expresses his frustration. But the Knight cockily answers that he will succeed where Freud failed because he will conduct extensive interviews with lovely ladies. Merlin supplies their addresses in a medieval Filofax called The Book of Dames, and the Knight contemplates the delightful year ahead of him as the first act ends.

Scene 1. The Elf Queen reveals a magical world hidden in the tapestry that includes Shakespeare’s Titania and Oberon. To the Knight’s question, Titania answers that women most want a child. But Oberon objects that as soon as a woman gets a child she loses a husband. The Knight concludes that Oberon is right, as the others fade back into the tapestry.

Scene 2. Sheherezade emerges from the tapestry next to answer the Knight’s question. In a tango she declares that women most want passion. The Knight asks to hear more, and Sheherezade finally reveals that what women actually want is a moment of perfect communication. The Knight rejects this answer out of hand, claiming that what women want most is endlessly repeated sex until men lose interest altogether. Sheherezade fades back into the tapestry.

Scene 3. Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse next steps out of the tapestry to speak with the Knight. What women most want, she says, is a noble, loving man, a “Mr. Knightley.” The Knight thinks she is hopelessly naive; what women really want from men, he says, is status and wealth.

Scene 4. The Knight continues on to the Lady of Shalott’s Tower, where Virginia Woolf and Eliza Doolittle are stone caryatids holding up the doorway. Shalott, we learn, is under a curse that prevents her from leaving her tower or even looking out of her window. The three women sing of what they want most: Virginia wants a room of her own, Eliza wants a room somewhere, and the Lady of Shalott wants a room with a view. The Knight concludes that what women really want is real estate. Shalott, overcome with love for the Knight, leaves her tower and the curse falls upon her.

3_ladies Scene 5. Furious, the female characters from Scenes 1-4 berate the Knight, saying that he will never learn what women want most. He counters that he has found the answer: women most want him. The women abandon him in disgust.

Scene 6. The year is almost over and the Knight has not found the answer to the question. A Loathly Lady emerges from the tapesty, promising to provide the correct answer if the Knight grants her a wish. He agrees and the act ends.

Prelude, A Twelvemonth and a Day. The Knight makes his way back to Camelot to deliver the Loathly Lady’s answer. The events of the past year flit across his mind in the form of John Kindness’s storyboards for The Loathly Lady.

Scene 1. Back at the court, the Knight reports the Loathly Lady’s answer: women most want “mastery in marriage”—Chaucer’s words for power within love. The ladies of the court agree, though the Knight, arrogant as ever, does not seem to have learnt anything from his adventures. It is now the moment for the Loathly Lady to reveal her wish: the Knight must marry her. The ladies of the court gloat at the Knight’s misfortune as the wedding is performed. The Knight bemoans the end of his happy youth.

Scene 2. Merlin and Freud argue as to which of them is more qualified to treat the Knight. The Loathly Lady puts an end to their quarrel by saying that she will be the one to cure him.
The Loathly Lady
Scene 3. In bed on their wedding night, the Loathly Lady offers the wretched Knight a choice: to remain old and faithful or to become young but perhaps unfaithful. The Knight returns the choice to the Lady, who is so gratified to have achieved mastery in marriage that she becomes young and beautiful as well as faithful. Merlin rejoices, but Freud has already forgotten the answer to the question, “What do women want most?” The Prologue returns to ask whether such happy endings are still possible in our day.



 



Creative Team

Paul Richards is an Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Florida. He has previously taught at Baylor University, and holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona. He is the recipient of various national and international prizes and commissions, including the Jacksonville Symphony Fresh Ink Competition, the Truman State University/M.A.C.R.O. Composition Competition, the New Music for Sligo/IMRO Composition Award, the International Horn Society Composition Competition, Special Distinction in the ASCAP Rudolph Nissim Award, and several others. His works have been commissioned by orchestras, wind ensembles, and chamber groups, and performed at conferences, festivals, and concerts across the United States and internationally on six continents. His music is recorded on the MMC, Capstone, Mark, Summit, ERM, and Meyer Media labels, and is published by Southern Music, TrevCo Music, Jeanne, Inc., IHS Press, and Margalit Music.

Wendy Steiner holds the Richard L. Fisher Chair of English at the University of Pennsylvania and is Founding Director of the Penn Humanities Forum. Her fields are contemporary literature, visual art, and aesthetics. Recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship among other honors, she has published many books, including Literature as Meaning (2005), Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art (2001), and The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism (1995, listed among The New York Times’ “100 Best Books of 1996”). Her cultural criticism has appeared in the Nation, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, London Independent, London Review of Books, and Times Literary Supplement, and her creative nonfiction, in Parnassus, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southwest Review, and the LRB.



John Kindness studied fine art at the old College of Art (now the University of Ulster) and worked as a graphic designer for the BBC before devoting himself full-time to art making in 1986. Since then he has held fellowships in the International Studio Program at PS1 in Queens and the British School in Rome. His exhibition, “Treasures of New York,” led to solo exhibitions at the ICA in Philadelphia, the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin, the Drawing Room in New York, and Littlejohn Contemporary. His work is collected in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, British Council, Imperial War Museum, National Gallery of Ireland, Ulster Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum. John lives in London.

Trained at the Musiecklyceum in Amsterdam and the Conservatorio Antinori in Perugia, John holds an M.A. in pre-classic musicology and is an expert in early woodwinds and Renaissance and Baroque performance practice. He is a founding member of the Gramercy Baroque Ensemble, has recorded for the Nonesuch and Lyrichord labels, and has performed in the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds and Carnegie Hall. He currently has a teaching practice in New York.

 


Première

The Loathly Lady had its première on April 1, 2009 in Irvine Auditorium in Philadelphia with Gary Thor Wedow conducting. It starred Julianne Baird, Thomas Meglioranza, José Álvarez, Jeffrey Behrens, Ruth Cunningham, Susan Hellauer, and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek. The orchestra members were Andrea Andros, Beverly Au, Matt Bengtson, Rachel Evans, Ben Harms, Greg Ingles, Joan Kimball, Lawrence Lipnik, Ed Matthew, James Miller, Rosamund Morley, Randall Rudolph, Susan Shaw, Priscilla Smith, Nina Stern, Margaret Swinchoski, Lisa Terry, Charles Weaver, and Robert Wiemken.

This was a concert performance with projections of still and animated images drawn by John Kindness and designed by Peter Gaffney and Wendy Steiner. Joshua Mosley was the consultant for animation and Erinn Hagerty was the lead animator.


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Performer Biographies

Josť Álvarez
Merlin

José Álvarez recently made an unscheduled debut with Chicago Opera Theater where he sang the title role in Handel’s Orlando under the baton of Raymond Leppard. He has appeared as a 2008 Young Artist with Chicago Opera Theater and a 2007 James M. Collier Apprentice Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera, where he covered Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mr. Álvarez’s television credits include the soundtrack for Brave New Girl, a made-for-TV movie for the ABC Family Channel. He has performed in concert and recital in Chicago, Los Angeles, El Paso, Las Cruces, Alamagordo, Carlsbad, New Canaan, and Juarez, Mexico. Mr. Álvarez was awarded Third Place in the 2008 Irma M. Cooper Opera Columbus International Vocal Competition. He was a winner of a 2007 Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges Grant, as well as the Francis Ramo Cusumano Memorial Award at the 2007 Florida Grand Opera/Young Patronesses of the Opera Voice Competition. Mr. Álvarez was a finalist in the 2007 Fritz & Lavinia Jensen Foundation Voice Competition, the 2007 Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition, the 2007 Bel Canto Vocal Scholarship Foundation Competition, and the 2007 Marian Anderson Prize for Emerging Classical Artists. He was also a participant in the 2007 Joy in Singing Master Classes. Mr. Álvarez holds a Master of Arts in Music and Music Education from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Arts from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.

Julianne Baird
Loathly Lady, Maiden, Elf Queen, Lady of Shalott

Julianne Baird has been hailed a “national artistic treasure” (New York Times) and a “well-nigh peerless performer in the repertory of the baroque, who possesses a natural musicianship which engenders singing of supreme expressive beauty.” Ms. Baird maintains a busy concert and recording schedule of solo recitals and performances of baroque opera and oratorio. With more than 125 recordings on Decca, Deutsche Gramophone, Dorian, and Newport Classics, Julianne Baird is one of the world’s ten most recorded classical artists. In addition to her major roles in a series of acclaimed recordings of Handel and Gluck operatic premieres, recent projects include a Carnegie performance of the lead role in La Giuditta of Alessandro Scarlatti with a subsequent recording. For 2008-09, recordings of Handel Arias from Alcina and Rinaldo with the Dryden Ensemble and The Loathly Lady, a new opera based on Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” are planned. She recently recorded the Handel Deutsche Arien with Tempesta di Mare for the British label Chandos. Her new Christmas album with Aulos, “In Dulci Jubilo,” has already received rave notices from the press. A recording featuring the poetry of Ronsard and the French Renaissance was recorded in May, 2008. Julianne Baird is recognized internationally as a performer whose “virtuosic vocal style is firmly rooted in scholarship.” Her book Introduction to the Art of Singing, Cambridge University Press, now in its third printing, is used by singers and professional schools internationally. The Musical World of Benjamin Franklin (CD and Song Book) was released in 2007 by The Colonial Institute.

Jeffrey Behrens
Freud/ Oberon

Jeffrey Behrens has performed many operatic roles, including Goro in Madama Butterfly, Squeak in Billy Budd, Il Podestà in La Finta Giardiniera, Pluton in Orphée aux Enfers, Peter Doyle in the world premiere of Miss Lonelyhearts, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, Alfred in Die Fledermaus, and Tom Rakewell in The Rake’s Progress. Equally at home in concert and on the stage, his concert work includes Carmina Burana, Mozart’s Requiem, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Mr. Behrens has been awarded prizes from the Lotte Lenya Competition, Opera Index, and the Gerda Lissner Foundation, and was a regional finalist with the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He has performed with such opera companies as New York City Opera, Utah Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Opera Omaha, and has been a young artist with Santa Fe Opera, Music Academy of the West, the Britten-Pears Programme, Central City Opera, and Merola Opera Program with San Francisco Opera. He hails from Rochester New York, and holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, a MM and an AD from the Juilliard School.

Ruth Cunningham
Titania, Virginia Woolf, Lady-in-Waiting #2, Prologue

Ruth Cunningham combines her skills as a classically trained musician and a sound-healing practitioner in improvising music that connects people to the healing and spiritual power of music. She specializes in improvisational sacred music from varied spiritual traditions in both liturgical and concert settings. Ruth is a founding member of the acclaimed women’s vocal quartet Anonymous 4, performing in concerts and festivals throughout the United States, Europe, and the Far East. Her ten recordings with the group include nine of medieval chant and polyphony for Harmonia Mundi and one, Voices of Light, by contemporary composer Richard Einhorn, for Sony Classical. After an absence of nine years, Ruth rejoined Anonymous 4 in 2007. Her most recent solo CD releases are Harpmodes: Journey for Voice and Harp and Light and Shadow: Chants, Prayers and Improvisations. Other recordings include HARC: Inside Chants with Ana Hernandez, Sacred Light with harpist Diana Stork, and Ancient Beginnings, part of the Open Ear Center’s music for healing series. She is featured on Invoking the Muse, with Frame Drummer Layne Redmond and has also performed and recorded with Early Music NY and the Renaissance vocal ensemble Pomerium. Ruth received a B. Mus. in Performance of Early Music from the New England Conservatory of Music and is certified as a cross-cultural music healing practitioner (CCMHP) by the Open Ear Center, where she studied with Pat Moffitt Cook.

Susan Hellauer
Queen Guenevere, Emma Woodhouse, Prologue

Susan Hellauer is a member of Anonymous 4 and has done the bulk of the group’s medieval music research leading to numerous award-winning recordings with Harmonia Mundi. She earned a B.A. in music from Queens College, CUNY, as a trumpet player, but an increasing fascination with medieval and Renaissance vocal music led her to convert to singing and to pursue degrees in musicology from Queens College and Columbia University. Susan has performed with such ensembles as Pomerium, Lionheart, The Harp Consort, Apollo’s Fire, and the Fes International Festival of Sacred Music. A singer, voice teacher, and choral coach, she is an adjunct professor at Queens College of the City University of New York. She also plays sackbut and Baroque guitar, and is a volunteer EMT and driver with the Nyack Community Ambulance Corps.

Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek
Sheherezade, Eliza Doolittle, Lady-in-Waiting #1, Prologue

In addition to her work as a member of the world famous vocal quartet Anonymous 4, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek has a reputation as a versatile and accomplished soloist, performing music from Bach to Babbitt. Recent solo work has included Bach cantatas with The Washington Bach Consort DC and Dr. J Reilly Lewis and the Bach Sinfonia DC, Bach and Handel arias at Carmel Bach Festival with Bruno Weill, songs by Dowland and others with The Folger Consort at the National Cathedral DC, Haydn, Mozart’s Regina Coeli with The Capitol Hill Chorale, Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, and the premiere of new opera and concert works with Albany Symphony Orchestra´s contemporary music group Dogs of Desire, conducted by David Alan Miller. Upcoming projects include the world premiere of Richard Einhorn’s oratorio The Origin at SUNY Oswego, and a new CD of medieval Christmas music with Anonymous 4. Jacqueline is also a voice teacher. She has thriving studios in NYC and DC and is a member of the faculty at the annual choral workshop Musica Deo Sacra in DC. She gives masterclasses and ensemble technique workshops all over the US, including SUNY Oswego, Mannes School of Music NYC, University of Georgia at Athens, and Georgetown University DC.

Thomas Meglioranza
Knight

Hailed as “one of today’s finest young singers” (Newsday), American baritone Thomas Meglioranza was a winner of the 2005 Naumburg Competition and the 2002 Concert Artist Guild Competition. Last season, he sang John Harbison’s new Symphony No. 5 with the Boston Symphony and made his London recital debut in Wigmore Hall. This season’s performances include a tour with Peter Serkin and the Brentano String Quartet performing music of Schoenberg, the title role in the world premiere of Gordon Shin’s Mackay: Black-Bearded Man in Taiwan, Handel’s Messiah with the Minnesota Orchestra, and Rodgers and Hammerstein songs at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony. He has sung the role of Prior Walter in Peter Eötvös’ Angels in America, and Chou En-Lai in John Adams’ Nixon in China with Opera Boston, and has appeared with the MET Chamber Ensemble with James Levine, the Grant Park Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, Houston Symphony, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and Philharmonia Baroque, among others. Mr. Meglioranza recently released his first solo CD of Franz Schubert’s songs, A graduate of Grinnell College and the Eastman School of Music, Thomas Meglioranza is also an alumnus of Tanglewood, Aspen, Marlboro, and the Steans Insititute at Ravinia.

Gary Thor Wedow
Conductor

Gary Thor Wedow served as Chorus Master of the New York City Opera from 1997–2007, a post he previously held at the Santa Fe Opera and the Canadian Opera Company. He was also head of the Canadian company’s prestigious Ensemble Studio. Recently he conducted Bach’s Mass in B Minor for the Berkshire Choral Festival, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at New York City Opera, Messiah with the Edmonton Symphony, Xerxes for the Pittsburgh Opera, and a new production of Pirates of Penzance for Glimmerglass Opera. Giulio Cesare highlighted the 2006–2007 season for Seattle Opera and La Finta Giardiniera for the Juilliard School in New York City. At New York City Opera, he conducted Carmen and at Chautauqua, L’Elisir d’Amore. Maestro Wedow’s long ssociation with the New York City Opera has included conducting Le Nozze di Figaro and the company’s acclaimed production of Xerxes. Further credits include Handel’s Alcina and Ariodante for Toronto’s Opera in Concert, selections from Aida, Iris, and William Tell at the Berkshire Choral Festival and Mozart’s Mass in C Minor for the SUNYPurchase Festival. Performing a wide range of repertoire, he was for many years Associate Conductor of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society. Mr. Wedow also has often participated with the composer in the performance of new works including those of Hans Werner Henze, Tan Dun, David Lang, Siegfried Matthus, Jake Heggie, Judith Weir, and Tobias Picker’s opera Emmeline, broadcast on PBS.

Parthenia, A Consort of Viols

Parthenia, hailed by The New Yorker as “one of the brightest lights in New York’s early-music scene,” is a dynamic ensemble exploring the extraordinary repertory for viols from Tudor England to the court of Versailles and beyond. Known for its remarkable sense of ensemble, Parthenia is presented in concerts across America, and produces its own lively and distinguished concert series at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan, collaborating regularly with the world’s foremost early music specialists, and has been featured on radio and television and in prestigious festivals and series including Music Before 1800, Maverick Concerts and the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik. Parthenia has commissioned, premiered and recorded many new works by composers such as Phil Kline, Brian Fennelly, Will Ayton, Randy Sandke, David Glaser, Kristin Norderval, and others, in part through grants from the American Composers Forum, the Jerome Foundation, the Fromm Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, Roger Williams University, the Viola da Gamba Society of America, and private funders. The group has recently finished editing a new CD of 16th-century French songs set to the poetry of Pierre de Ronsard, with soprano Julianne Baird and Renaissance violinist Robert Mealy. Parthenia is represented by Wendy Redlinger, Senior Artist Representative of GEMS Live.

Piffaro, The Renaissance Band

Piffaro, founded in 1980, performs music of the late Medieval and Renaissance periods on a large and varied collection of early wind instruments, augmented by percussion and strings. Modeled after the official civic, chapel, and court bands that were the premier professional ensembles from the 14th to the early 17th centuries, Piffaro has also explored the instruments and music of the peasantry and rustic life. Under the direction of Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken, the Band produces its own concert series in Philadelphia with three to four programs per year, bringing to their series some of the finest talents in early music performance as their guests. Excerpts from these concerts are regularly broadcast nationwide on National Public Radio’s Performance Today. Piffaro has performed in many of the major early music series in the US, including Music Before 1800 and The Cloisters Concerts in New York City, the Seattle Early Music Guild, the San Francisco Early Music Society, the Concert Society at Maryland, Milwaukee’s Early Music Now, and the Pittsburgh Renaissance & Baroque Society. The ensemble made its European debut in May of 1993 at Tage Alter Musik Regensburg and since then has played throughout Europe. Piffaro has recorded for Newport Classics, Deutsche Grammophone, and Dorian Records.

 

 

The Loathly Lady
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