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University Opera Presents “Transformations”: Fairy Tales with a Twist!

February 12, 2016

This spring, University Opera will present Transformations, Conrad Susa’s daring 1973 chamber opera with texts by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. Transformations will be directed by Interim Director of Opera, David Ronis, and conducted by Kyle Knox, who recently conducted Madison Opera’s production of Little Women.

Anne Sexton. Photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart.

Anne Sexton. Photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart.

This new production will be performed in English with projected supertitles in Music Hall, 925 Bascom Hill, on Friday, March 11 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 PM; and Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM.

Transformations is an adult re-telling of ten classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through Sexton’s eyes. Her struggle with depression and mental illness frames the darkly humorous and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-twentieth-century references, both literary and musical. As the singers play multiple characters, Sexton and Susa shed light on a variety of unexplored psychological implications of these stories, often using a confessional, even confrontational approach. The result is a wild ride – a true ensemble piece that is both wickedly funny and profoundly resonant.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Sexton was also a fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature and the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. She committed suicide in 1974 at age 45.

The UW-Madison production sets Transformations in a 1973 group therapy meeting of which Sexton is the facilitator. At the meeting, the characters process their fears through acting out the fairy tales. Among other twists to the tales, the “happy-ever-after” endings are subverted and Sexton often alludes to mental illness and popular culture.  It is a risky opera as it contains dark themes, scandalous dialogue, and witty humor. Sexton was viewed as a “confessional poet” who tackled many taboo female subjects such as abortion, masturbation, incest, and the list goes on. Note: Transformations is recommended for high school age and up.

Because of the themes raised, Ronis has scheduled a pre-performance panel discussion.

March 11, 2016
6:00 – 7:00 PM
Music Hall
Free Admission

The panelists will include:
Lynn Keller – Professor of Poetry, UW-Madison
Thomas DuBois – Professor of Scandinavian Studies, Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies,UW-Madison
Laura Schwendinger – Professor of Composition, School of Music, UW-Madison
Karlos Moser – Emeritus Director of Opera, UW-Madison
David Ronis – Interim Director of Opera, UW-Madison
Moderator: Susan Cook, Director, UW-Madison School of Music

We will also hold talkback sessions after each performance.

The work was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and premiered there in 1973, a year and a half before Sexton’s suicide. In 1976, Karlos Moser presented the local premiere at UW—Madison and there was a subsequent University Opera production, again under Moser, in 1991. University Opera is undertaking this project in the spirit of our role as an education institution that values presenting contemporary operas and the discourse that it encourages.

The UW-Madison production will feature sopranos Erin Bryan, Nicole Heinen and Cayla Rosché, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Buechel, tenors Dennis Gotkowski, Michael Hoke and William Ottow, baritone Brian Schneider and guest bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz. The design team includes David Gipson, lighting; Hyewon Park and Sydney Krieger, costumes; and Greg Silver, technical director. The production stage manager will be Delaney Egan and additional student staff includes Thomas Stone, master electrician, and James Dewhurst, assistant master electrician.

Performance dates, times and prices:

Fri Mar 11 @ 7:30pm
Sun Mar 13 @ 3:00pm
Tue Mar 15 @ 7:30pm
General Admission: $25
Seniors: $20
Students: $10
Tickets available at the Union Box Office
Also available at the door.

Read a review of a biography of Anne Sexton: “The Death is Not the Life”

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