Wednesday 11 October 2023

Lili Elbe: Tobias Picker's new opera based on the life of the painter who had the first gender confirmation surgery in the 1930s

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener
Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener
The premiere of  American composer Tobias Picker's new opera, Lili Elbe will open at Theater St. Gallen in Switzerland on 22 October 2023, reopening the newly renovated art-brut style Konzert und Theater St. Gallen building. 

With a libretto by Aryeh Lev Stollman (Picker's husband), the opera tells the story of the painter Lili Elbe (1882-1931), who had the first gender confirmation surgery in the 1930s and features transgender baritone Lucia Lucas in the title role. The performances are conducted by Modestas Pitrénas, chief conductor and artistic director of the Theater St. Gallen, and directed by Krystian Lada, with choreography by Frank Fannar Pedersen. 

Unlike the 2015 film The Danish Girl, the opera is not based on the novel, but on historical sources, including Lili Elbe's own writings. Lili Elbe is the story of a love overcoming all obstacles. The opera allows a glimpse into the life of Lili Elbe and her wife Gerda Wegener, both famous painters. The opera explores Lili’s coming out and transition at a time when gender confirmation surgery was still completely uncharted territory.

Lili Elbe is Tobias Picker's seventh opera and his second to a libretto by Aryeh Lev Stollman; the two wrote Awakening, Picker's 2022 opera based on Oliver Sacks book. Picker's operas have varied between is 1998 work, The Fantastic Mr Fox based on the Roald Dahl story, to An American Tragedy based on the novel by Theodor Dreiser and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005, to Dolores Clairborn based on the Stephen King's novel and premiered at San Francisco Opera in 2013.

Full details from Theater St Gallen

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