Odyssey Opera Presents the East Coast Premiere Of Tobias Picker's AWAKENINGS

The performance is on Saturday, February 25, 2023, at 7:30 p.m.

By: Jan. 05, 2023
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Odyssey Opera Presents the East Coast Premiere Of Tobias Picker's AWAKENINGS

Odyssey Opera, in partnership with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), presents the East Coast premiere of Tobias Picker and Aryeh Lev Stollman's Awakenings (2022) Saturday, February 25, at 7:30 p.m. In a one-night only, fully-staged production, Awakenings marks the first operatic performance in the reopened Huntington Theatre.

Baritone Jarrett Porter plays the lead role of Dr. Oliver Sacks, alongside a cast including sopranos Joyce El-Khoury and Adrienne Danrich. They are joined by the Odyssey Opera chorus, and the BMOP orchestra as part of its extended 25th anniversary celebration season. The creative team includes Grammy Award winning conductor Gil Rose and celebrated director James Robinson (Artistic Director Opera Theatre of Saint Louis). A world premiere studio recording will follow on BMOP/sound (TBR Summer 2023).

Based on the 1973 bestseller by Oliver Sacks, Awakenings is an operatic journey drawing from source material and personal experience. Set primarily in a Bronx hospital from 1966 to the end of 1969, it tells the true story of the eminent neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, who received worldwide acclaim for awakening survivors of the "sleeping-sickness" epidemic of the 1920s from their decades-long, frozen-like state to a new chance at an active life with the drug L-DOPA. Sacks' work inspired several adaptations for the stage and screen, including the 1990 Oscar-nominated film Awakenings.

About 25 years ago, Picker acquired the stage rights to the book. The project is of personal importance for Picker -- he has said his friend Dr. Sacks "freed" him from the shame he once felt over his Tourette's Syndrome. Awakenings first took musical form as a ballet score, commissioned by England's Rambert Dance Company, which toured throughout the UK during the 2010-11 season with some eighty performances. There is no musical overlap between the ballet and the opera. After a two-year delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Awakenings, commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, premiered June 2022. Months before Sacks' death in 2015 at the age of 82, he revealed publicly and with pride that he was gay. This sensitive operatic adaptation by two of Sacks' longtime friends-Picker and Stollman-is the first to portray him, accurately, as a gay man.

"I am sure this opera will resonate with audience members in many different ways. Its themes range from the role science and medicine plays in our lives to living your truth," says Gil Rose, artistic director and conductor of both Odyssey Opera and BMOP. "The current pandemic that we are all still living through adds another layer of meaning onto this opera. Ultimately, this is a story about reflection, hope, re-awakenings, and love."

A renowned composer of all genres, performed by major orchestras and concert soloists throughout the world, Tobias Picker was initially trained by a trio of American Modernists-Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, and Charles Wuorinen. Picker, called "the finest composer for the lyric stage" by The Wall Street Journal, says as a composer he is a "prima la musica guy." "I am inspired by words, their rhythm and emotions they describe. In the end, it is music that brings a story to life." Picker's opera career began with Emmeline (1996) commissioned by Santa Fe Opera, followed by Fantastic Mr. Fox, premiered by LA Opera and later performed then recorded by BMOP, which won a Grammy. His next three operas-Thérèse Raquin, An American Tragedy, and Dolores Claiborne, which premiered at The Dallas Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and San Francisco Opera respectively-have received widespread recognition and multiple new productions.

Aryeh Lev Stollman is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the novel The Far Euphrates (Riverhead), a neuroradiologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and Picker's partner of 43 years. He had the challenging task of turning Sacks' nonfiction book, a collection of case histories and essays, into a libretto.

Odyssey Opera and BMOP have performed Picker's music for almost a decade. Its 2014 co-production of the family opera Fantastic Mr. Fox was hailed by WBUR Radio as "utterly delightful" and one of the "High Notes of Classical Music in 2014." In 2019, BMOP/sound released the opera's debut recording Tobias Picker: Fantastic Mr. Fox (#1065), which subsequently won the label's first Grammy Award for "Best Opera Recording" in 2020.