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FULL AWAKENINGS (Picker) Boston 2023 Jarrett Porter, Adrienne Danrich, Joyce El-Khoury, Andrew Morstein

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  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: yessubs, ensubs  
  • Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO


A Note from the Composer
By Tobias Picker
Oliver Sacks and I met in 1992 through a mutual friend who believed Dr. Sacks
could diagnose the mysterious and debilitating movement disorder that has
plagued me since the age of five. Oliver told me that I had Tourette’s Syndrome,
and helped me learn how to acknowledge and understand a major part of myself that I couldn’t before. As our friendship developed, I became enamored by
the sheer beauty of his prose as he in turn began attending my concerts and
opera premieres. When I expressed a desire to adapt one of his books into an
opera, Oliver urged me to consider Awakenings. Both because of its proven
dramatic appeal (the film version was nominated for the Academy Award for
Best Picture in 1991) and my own identification with the patients, some of
whom suffered from exhausting major tics, I readily agreed.
The opera is framed by our retelling of the Brothers Grimm version of
Sleeping Beauty, with Dr. Sacks himself cast as the prince. I employed letters
of his name as a cantus firmus using the Renaissance technique of soggetto
cavato—notes drawn from the vowels of key words—to further ground the
music in mythology and allegory. For example, Sacks’s character is represented by omnipresent, persistent, octave A’s against which the melodies of
the storytelling unfold.
At the time he wrote Awakenings, Oliver Sacks was still closeted. Though
he was open with me, it wasn’t until the last year of his life that he came out
to the world at large. We have incorporated struggles with sexual identity into
the fabric of our story. With all five of my prior operas about heterosexuals, I
felt a longing to write about gay characters—in this case bound together in
a triangle of unrequited love. Leonard is unable to express or understand his
feelings for Mr. Rodriguez because he has been locked in a frozen body for
forty years; Mr. Rodriguez is consumed by his adoration of Dr. Sacks; Oliver
finds himself locked in by outside social and familial forces.
Composing Awakenings was an act of love: love for my old friend Oliver, a
man with an endless heart, who is central to the story; love for my husband
and partner of 42 years, the splendid neuroradiologist/novelist/librettist Aryeh
Lev Stollman; love for the brave survivors of the “Sleepy-Sickness” pandemic;
and love for the power of music and words to bring to life a long-dormant
story of sadness and hope. I hope this story will resonate and provide some
solace for today’s audiences who have endured almost three years of a new
pandemic—one which we could never have anticipated at the time this opera
was completed in 2019, but which has reminded us all of the fragility of life and
the power of healing through medicine, music, words, and time.

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